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What Questions Do You Ask a Probate Attorney After Your Loved One Has Died?

12/15/2022 | Probate
What Questions Do You Ask A Probate Attorney After Your Loved One Has Died

When someone close to you dies, everything can become chaotic very quickly. In the middle of grieving your loss, you have to work out funeral arrangements, talk to friends and family members, and manage everyday tasks. On top of all of that, you may soon find yourself having to confront a confusing and often stressful legal process—California Probate. At a time like this, a California probate attorney can provide the insight and advice you need to probate your loved one’s estate. If you have never talked with a probate lawyer before, you will want to know: What questions do you ask a probate attorney after a loved one has died?

Here are just a few of the questions you may want to consider asking your California probate attorney:

Questions to Ask Your California Probate Attorney

  • Does my loved one’s estate have to go through probate?

A person’s “probate estate” is any property that they owned at the time of their death that is within the probate court’s jurisdiction. Depending on how your loved one planned for their estate, some of their assets may be distributed outside of the probate estate. For instance, if your loved one’s estate is valued at $166,250 or less, it may be eligible under California law to use “simplified procedures” for transferring property. Simplified procedures may or may not be the best choice for your loved one’s estate. If you believe your loved one’s estate may qualify to use simplified procedures, you should discuss the matter further with your probate attorney.

  • How do I find out if my loved one had a will?

If you are unsure if your loved one had a will, you and your probate attorney can review the different places that one may be stored. By talking about your loved one’s habits, the attorney may be able to help you come up with ideas about where to look. You may also find that after a detailed discussion, you will be able to draw a more firm conclusion regarding whether a will exists at all.

  • What will happen if my loved one didn’t have a will?

If you don’t think your loved one had a will, you should let the attorney know so that he or she can explain how the probate process will work going forward. Your loved one’s estate will still go through probate. However, the probate court will have to appoint an executor to oversee its administration. Additionally, their assets will pass to his or her heirs according to California law.

  • How long does probate take?

Under California law, a personal representative is required to complete probate within one year from the date of his or her appointment unless he or she files the estate tax. The average probate California case can take anywhere from six months to two years to complete. The length of the case depends on the complexity and size of the estate. Numerous factors can influence how long a case will take, so this is an important topic to discuss when you talk with your probate attorney.

  • Are there any assets that won’t go through probate?

There are assets that can be exempt from the probate estate, so it’s crucial to review all of your loved one’s assets with your probate attorney. For instance, IRAs, 401(k)s, retirement accounts, and insurance proceeds can be paid directly to named beneficiaries without being counted as part of the probate estate. Additionally, certain trust assets are considered to be the property of the trust and therefore are not subject to probate. Property that passes by survivorship is also not going to have to go through the probate process.

  • Can my loved one’s family use his or her assets to pay their bills?

You and your probate attorney at the Law Offices of Alice A Salvo can examine your loved one’s estate and consider possible sources of income. If your loved one owned property with their spouse, it may be transferable to them outside of probate as community property with a right of survivorship. If the property was owned with others through joint tenancy, the surviving owners might already own your loved one’s share. Further, your loved one’s bank accounts may have survivorship provisions that automatically transferred the balance to another account holder or a named survivor when he or she died. If there was a retirement account or life insurance proceeds left to family members, those funds might be accessible now.