When a loved one passes away, it can be a painful and challenging time for their survivors. While managing their grief, family members often have to make final arrangements while also trying to determine how to transfer their loved one’s estate. After someone dies, their property may have to go through a process called probate. If you are unfamiliar with California probate, you will want to know: What happens during a California probate case?
What is Probate?
Probate describes the legal process where a California court determines how to distribute someone’s property after they die. One of the California probate court’s functions is to examine whether the person who passed away (the decedent) had a will and if their existing will is valid. The court will also decide how to distribute the estate with or without a will.
Filing the Will
- For the decedent’s loved ones, the probate process begins with finding out if they had a will. If the decedent passed away with a will, the document should include the name of a personal representative or executor. The personal representative is the individual the decedent has nominated to administer their estate during probate.
- Under California law, within 30 days of knowing about the decedent’s death, the custodian of the decedent’s will must:
- 1) personally deliver or mail a copy of the will to the clerk of the superior court of the probate court in the county where the decent lived, and
- 2) send a copy to the personal representative.
- If the custodian cannot locate the executor, they must send a copy of the will to a person named as a beneficiary in the will.
Starting the Process
- The case begins when a party files a Petition for Probate along with any other required documents.
- If the decedent died without a will, a petition and any other necessary documents would still have to be filed to start the probate process.
Appointment of the Personal Representative or Administrator
- After the petition has been filed, the probate court will review the filed documents to ensure everything is in order.
- If the court finds that the pleading and required documents are proper, it will appoint a personal representative (if they had a will) or an administrator if they died intestate (without a will) to oversee the estate’s administration during probate.
Notice and Accounting
- Once the personal representative or administrator has been appointed, they will have the legal authority to access the decedent’s bank account and other financial records.
- They will be required to mail notices of the probate case and a hearing to all beneficiaries of the estate and any known creditors.
- The personal representative or administrator must also complete an inventory of the decedent’s estate and prepare a detailed accounting for the court.
Paying for the Estate’s Debts
- After the personal representative or administrator provides formal notice to the decedent’s creditors, these parties will have the opportunity to make claims against the estate. These claims will be approved or denied by the representative or administrator.
- The representative or administrator must also resolve any unpaid taxes and file federal and state tax returns until the case is completed.
The Final Distribution of the Estate
- If assets are remaining after the decedent’s qualifying debts and taxes are paid, bequests will be distributed to heirs according to the terms of the will or California law.
- After the personal representative or administrator completes their case requirements, they will file a plan and accounting for the court’s review.
- Once the court confirms that all tasks have been adequately completed and documented, the personal representative or administrator will be discharged from their duties.
The stages of probate are often complicated, and various issues can arise throughout a case. If you need assistance with a loved one’s estate, you should consult with an experienced California probate attorney. Your probate attorney can help you assess your case and provide you with the insight and advice you need to proceed through the probate process successfully.
At the Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo, we are experienced California probate attorneys who can help you navigate every stage of your probate case. Please contact us online or by phone to set up a free consultation today.