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Going through any legal process can be intimidating especially if you have little understanding of the court’s functions or procedures. Those going through a probate case often have to manage the loss of a loved one along with traversing unfamiliar and confusing legal requirements. One way to minimize the anxiety of the situation is to have a better understanding of the California Probate Court.

What does the California Probate Court do?

The California probate court oversees cases wherein someone has passed away and either left a will or died without one. This involves assessing their debts and assets as well as any applicable tax liability. Not every estate will need to go through the probate process, but those that do will be under the jurisdiction of the court. If survivors wish to challenge a will, they will be able to do so in the probate court. The California probate court also appoints guardians for minor children and conservators for incapacitated adults.

How do you Start a California Probate Case?

If the decedent died with a will, it would need to be filed within 30 days of his or her death in the county where he or she resided. The probate court will confirm that the submitted document is the decedent’s will and then appoint the executor named in the will to manage the estate. If the individual died without a will, the court will appoint an administrator to complete this task. The court will issue “letters of testamentary” or “letters of administration” which permit the designated person to gain access to the decedent’s assets and private accounts.

What Happens Once the California Probate Case Begins?

The executor or administrator will have certain obligations such as conducting an inventory of the estate and reporting known assets and debts to the court. The court’s function is to oversee these actions and make sure they comply with California law. There will be a public announcement that the estate is in probate which will allow creditors to file legal claims against the estate formally. In most cases, the creditors will have four months to make these claims. There may also be federal estate tax liability which will require that IRS forms be filed. After any qualifying debts and applicable taxes are paid, the probate court will direct the distribution of remaining assets to those heirs named in the will or by California law, if the decedent passed without a will.

Probate is not a fast process, and, depending on the complexity of the estate, could have complications which can make things take even longer. However, by having an experienced and knowledgeable probate attorney at your side, you can avoid costly mistakes and unnecessary delays during probate.

At the Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo, we have experience with California probate and can provide you with the advice you need at every stage of your case. Schedule a free consultation today to start planning your solution. /