When someone you love dies, you may have to work with the California probate courts in order to have their estate settled and assets distributed. In California, probate happens when you die owning assets in your name, whether or not you have a Will. Having a Will means you get to decide who gets your property. If you die “intestate”, that is, without a Will, the State of California determines who gets your property through their laws of intestacy. The probate process is complicated as it involves proving the Will is valid, notifying people of the death, creating an inventory of assets, ascertaining debts, filing the appropriate documents with the court, preparing an accounting of the financial matters, and attending hearings. If the deceased person’s assets are less than $150,000 in total and there is no real estate, then the estate may be settled without probate, although some legal documentation is still required.
Assisting Executors Through Probate
Most people have little or no experience dealing with probate. There are certain local rules that apply which may be different for each county in California. This is why it is not a good idea to not try to handle the probate on your own. An experienced California probate attorney knows how to efficiently move through the probate process. Executors often have questions pertaining to the process including the preparation of an inventory of assets in the estate, distributing assets to the heirs appropriately, and filing the final tax returns. This complex process is one of the reasons why the Law Office of Margaret Sharp helps Executors and Administrators of estates with probate.
The probate process typically starts within 30 days of the death of a loved one. Simple estates can take as long as one year to complete and more extensive estates can take significantly longer. When you have been named Executor of an estate and you need assistance, call upon the Law Office of Margaret B. Sharp, an experienced California probate attorney working in Los Angeles County. You can reach her by calling at (310) 841-0357 or use her online contact form to set up a preliminary consultation. Ms. Sharp can help you throughout the California probate process and ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to probate a Will in California?
It varies by county, but generally takes a year or more. The reason for this is that the process has certain steps which must be taken in a certain order There is the initial hearing which is set approximately 6 weeks from the filing of the petition for probate. After the hearing there is paperwork that needs to be filed before the court will issue Letters Testamentary which is the Executor’s official appointment by the court. After that, there is a period of time for creditors to submit claims and for the Executor to inventory and appraise the decedent’s assets. A hearing on the petition for final distribution is scheduled once all the tasks given the Executor have been completed, including the filing and paying of income taxes. The Executor is not allowed to make any distributions from a probate estate, including paying himself or his attorney, without a court order to do so.
Is probate necessary to transfer title to a vehicle?
No, unless you are someone like Jay Leno who has a garage full of cars that are collector’s items. For he general public, cars can be transferred to the buyer by the Executor or the Trustee, if the decedent had a living trust. Of course, the vehicle is an asset of the estate and should be part of the inventory and appraisal that happens after a person’s death.
Does an Executor need to be a US citizen?
Yes, although he or she does not need to be a California resident. Out of state Executors are required to be bonded in order to be appointed, even if the Will says he or she can serve without bond.
Probate means the decedent’s money goes to the State.
This is a myth. The State of California can be a creditor of a probate estate if the decedent died with outstanding and unpaid income tax liabilities. However, it is the attorney and the Executor who receive a significant sum from a decedent’s estate because attorney fees and Executor compensation is set by statute and is calculated as a percentage of the assets subject to the probate process.
Do I need an attorney to probate a Will in California?
Although not legally required in the State of California, it is recommended to hire an attorney to handle the probate because the process is not intuitive and there are unpublished local rules for specific courts which only experience can teach.
Can the beneficiary of my estate also be my Executor?
Yes. A person can serve both as the Executor of a probate estate as well as be a beneficiary of it.