California Probate Administration
What Probate Is
Probate is the legal process by which a person’s will is admitted to court and proven to be valid so that it may be given effect. In the event a person dies without a will, the probate process is used to distribute a person’s estate in accordance with California law regarding intestate succession.
The purpose of probate is to protect the expressed intentions of the deceased and distribute the deceased’s property to intended heirs and beneficiaries, while also protecting the interests of creditors and others with potential claims against the estate. The probate process is also used to determine who will serve as the personal representative for the estate, while shielding that person against claims to a certain degree.
A probate attorney guides the personal representative through the probate process and handles technical, legal aspects of the probate administration. Some probate attorneys also handle any disputes or litigation that may arise, such as challenges to a will’s validity or how the estate is distributed, or a dispute surrounding the appointment of the personal representative.
How Probate Works
After a person’s death, probate is opened by filing a petition with the court. The court appoints a personal representative of the estate, who may be either the executor named in the will or an administrator appointed by the court if an executor was not named. The court then issues letters giving the personal representative the authority to act on behalf of the estate. The will is also admitted to probate and is proven as valid by some acceptable means, such as having the witnesses to the will swear that the will in probate is the one they signed.
A notice is published to give creditors or others with a potential claim against the estate the opportunity to come forward and present their claims within the next four months. Banks and other holders of assets are also notified, as well as any known creditors, heirs and intended beneficiaries, who also have a period to demand proof of the will or contest it.
Meanwhile, an inventory of all assets and property of the estate is conducted. The personal representative may sell or liquidate assets or take other actions in the best interests of the estate. Claims against the estate are paid or otherwise resolved, and any taxes owed by the estate are paid as well. After a final accounting or final report, including the preparation and filing of an estate tax return, the estate property may be distributed in accordance with the terms of the will.
Probate can be a lengthy and expensive process if there are any challenges or disputes, or if the estate is particularly large or complicated. Hiring a probate attorney can help make the probate process operate smoothly and efficiently, so that heirs and beneficiaries receive the maximum value from the estate as quickly as possible and with a minimum of difficulty.