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Probate in California: What You Need to Know

Last Will And Testament
When you get into planning your estate, one important component you need to consider and plan for is probate. Before you make any decisions, learn all you can about probate so you or your heirs will not encounter any surprises later on. Here are some things you should know about probate in California.

What Is Probate?

Probate is a legal process referring to the distribution of a person's estate after his or her passing. The distribution goes to those who the deceased chose as beneficiaries, and probate also settles any debt with creditors.

What Are the Steps Involved with Probate?

Probate consists of several steps. The first step is to choose a person who serves as the administrator of the estate. If the deceased left a will, the administrator executes the will. If no will exists or if the will has no executor, the probate court will choose someone.

The next step is proving the will in court to ensure its validity. California has its own rules regarding signatures, witnesses, and notaries required to validate the law. For instance, California requires two witness signatures on a will. All witnesses must be present at the signing and acknowledge that the document is true and valid.

The next step is the inventory and identification of the deceased person's property. Assets cannot go to beneficiaries or sold until probate is over. The appraisal of all property takes place at this time as well. Creditors will receive payment before any asset distribution happens.

What Happens If No Will Exists?

If the deceased did not make a will or if some of the assets are not in the will, the probate process will determine where those assets will go. During probate, individuals have the option to challenge the will. If this happens, the court will determine the proper beneficiary of the assets.

How Long Is the Probate Process?

A typical probate process can take several months to complete. However, cases that are more complex can take years, particularly if significant disputes exist over assets or the validity of the will.

Do You Pay for Probate?

Yes, probate has some fees, such as court fees and legal fees. The executor of the will is responsible for any costs associated with probate if the estate does not account for them. Because of this, many people choose to start a living trust to avoid probate and lessen the amount of time to finalize the will.

Are Any Assets Not Allowed in Probate?

Some asset types cannot enter the probate process. These are non-probate assets in a will. Examples of assets which are not to enter probate include life insurance policies which designate a beneficiary, real estate held in multiple names with rights of survivorship, and bank accounts with a beneficiary "payable upon death."

Probate laws vary by state. Some states do not require an attorney to complete probate, including California. However, hiring an attorney is best, as probate is a complex process. You do not want to miss receiving your portion of an estate due to a technicality or missed deadline. Your attorney will ensure you receive what is rightfully yours upon the death of a loved one.

If you need any assistance with your or a loved one's estate planning, please contact The Law Office of Leon A. Karjola. Our office is here to help you make sense of the estate planning process and provide you with different options to ensure your estate goes to where you prefer upon your passing. We look forward to working with you during this most important time of your life. Call now.