Many in the San Fernando Valley may talk about the probate process as if it were some form of punishment that should be avoided at all costs. While there are certain advantages to not having an estate go to probate, the truth is that thousands of cases appear in probate court every year. Statistics shared by the Judicial Council of California show that in the 2013-14 fiscal year, 44,298 of such cases were heard in state courts. Understanding the probate process may have a significant impact on one’s estate planning.
According to the website for the California Courts, the probate process involves the appointment of either an administrator or an executor by the court to handle the affairs of an estate. An executor is appointed if the decedent had a will (in which the executor is often specifically named), while an administrator is assigned if a person died intestate (without a will). In either case, the person appointed has three primary responsibilities:
- Collect all of the assets that together comprise the estate.
- Use those assets to pay off any debts or claims against the estate.
- Distribute the remaining assets to estate beneficiaries who are either named in a will or designated as such by the state’s guidelines for intestate succession.
The primary reason why so many recommend doing what one can to avoid probate is the time it can take to complete. Some cases can take over one year to be processed through the probate court, during which time legal fees can accrue that must be paid out of estate assets. Estates whose net worth is less than $150,000 may qualify for simplified processes that allow them to bypass probate altogether.