Understanding the Probate Process in California

What happens during the probate process in California?

The death of a loved one is always traumatic and will require a considerable amount of time to process.  In the midst of your grief, you will likely also find yourself struggling to untangle the financial issues that often exist after a death.  It is important that you have a basic understanding of the probate process in the state of California so that you can timely initiate probate and comply with the requirements of the court.  Our experienced San Mateo probate administration lawyers at Biddle Law provide an overview of probate in California below.  If you have been named a personal representative or have additional questions about probate, contact our office for assistance.

What is Probate?

Probate is the court-supervised process of transferring property from the estate of an individual who has died to his or her beneficiaries.  Probate will generally be necessary whenever there is property to distribute or debts to settle.

Does All Property Go Through Probate?

Not all property will go through probate.  Life insurance benefits will be paid directly to named beneficiaries, and living trusts will also convey property without need for probate.  Probate can be an expensive process, costing between four and seven percent of the total estate value, and potentially far more.  With thorough estate planning, you can eliminate the need for probate or at least minimize the amount of property that will be distributed through it.

Who Is in Charge of the Probate Process?

If a valid will exists, the person named as executor within the will is usually appointed as the personal representative.  The personal representative will manage the estate and perform the tasks necessary to complete the probate process.  If there is not a will, then the court will appoint an administrator to handle the probate process.  Personal representatives and administrators perform a difficult but vital job.  They will require the assistance of a skilled probate administration attorney to complete the probate process in a comprehensive and efficient manner.

How Long Does Probate Take?

Under California law, the personal representative has one year from the date of their appointment to complete probate, unless he or she files a federal estate tax, in which case 18 months is authorized.  There are some circumstances in which probate will take longer, such as when the will is contested. Personal representatives can petition for more time if necessary to complete the probate process.