California Probate Court: An Overview

California probate court is unique because it is a special division of the court system that deals only with probate issues, including managing decedents’ estates, guardianships of minors, conservatorships of adults, and trusts.

There are several probate courts throughout the state. Each county’s Superior Court has a Probate Division that deals exclusively with probate matters.

Wills, Estates, and Trusts

The probate court will supervise the administration of the probate process. That includes identifying and gathering the decedent’s personal belongings and inventorying and appraising them. The Court will also oversee payments to creditors, including the taxing authorities.

To start the probate process, an executor, if there is a will, or an interested loved one will petition the probate court to open an estate for a decedent. Then, the California probate court will oversee all aspects of the administration of the estate, including situations that involve a dispute regarding the validity of the will or asset distribution process.

Because the probate court is the hub of information regarding all things probate, you can find lots of information regarding ongoing probate administration or cases that have not yet begun. For example, when someone passes, you can check with the probate court to determine if a will has been deposited with the court. If no will has been filed, then either the will was placed in a safety deposit box at a bank, or it does not exist. You can view the will by presenting a Certified Death Certificate or an Informational Certified Death Certificate to the probate department.

The probate court will also address issues with administration of both living and testamentary trusts.


The California Probate Court also addresses issues related to conservatorships. A conservatorship can be put into place when an adult is no longer able to take care of him or herself regarding the financial and legal aspects of their lives. Conservatorships can be appropriate for any situation where an adult is not physically or mentally capable of fulfilling these responsibilities.

Individuals can petition the court to establish a conservatorship. Then, an investigator will interview the person who is the subject of the conservatorship before the court holds its first hearing. Once a conservatorship is established, the conservator will work with the court on an ongoing basis to ensure that the conservatee is cared for well.


The Probate Court also has jurisdiction to deal with issues relating to guardianships. In these situations, a guardian is appointed for a minor when his or her parents are not able to care for the child from both a physical and financial perspective. Guardianships can arise in a variety of situations, but they sometimes occur because the child’s parents have passed away or have otherwise become incapacitated. In some cases, a guardian is necessary to administer a large inheritance or another sum of money.

An adult starts the guardianship process by petitioning the probate court for guardianship. An investigator will do a background investigation on the proposed guardian and any other adult that is living in the home. The court will hold a hearing on the matter 45 days after the initial filing.

Finding a Qualified Attorney

Because the probate court is an entirely separate division of the court, it is a good idea to use a lawyer who has experience in this particular venue. Alexander Biddle can help. Contact us today for more information.