California Probate Lawyers serving Long Beach, Los Angeles, and Orange Counties
Our California probate lawyers will assist a personal representative (executor) of an estate to administer the probate estate. Probate is the legal process by which a decedent’s assets are distributed to beneficiaries according to the terms of the decedent’s Last Will, and California Statutes. California has several types of probate proceedings, depending on the nature of the estate.
Our experienced attorneys can handle probate cases regardless of where in California the decedent resided. We will file the decedent’s Will with the California Probate Court, handle all required court proceedings, distribute bequests to heirs, notify creditors, pay creditors, resolve claims against the estate, arrange for necessary tax returns, and perform any other administrative steps required in the probate of the estate.
If a decedent had a Will, it must be filed with the Probate Court. According to California law, only assets titled in the decedent’s name are probated. Assets titled in the name of a Trust, jointly held assets, or accounts naming a beneficiary, are not probated.
It is a common misconception that assets are probated only if they are part of a taxable estate. In fact, any asset titled solely in the name of the decedent must be probated if there is no designated beneficiary, regardless of whether the estate is taxable.
Our California probate attorneys recognize that the time following the death of a loved one is extraordinarily difficult for families. The complex responsibilities of administering an estate can be overwhelming. Our probate lawyers and staff provide clients in these circumstances with the same understanding and sensitivity that we would want for ourselves and our own families. Please contact our law firm for a free consultation.
PROBATE IN CALIFORNIA- FAQ’S
What is California probate?
Probate is the court-supervised process of identifying and collecting the decedent’s assets, paying the decedent’s debts, and distributing the remainder to the decedent’s beneficiaries. The Will must be filed with the Probate Court in the California county in which the decedent resided at the time of death. A circuit court judge presides over the proceedings.
What is a personal representative (executor)?
Called an executor in some states and the personal representative in California, this is the person, or a bank or trust company appointed by the probate judge to administer the decedent’s estate. The personal representative is a fiduciary, i.e., a party with legal and financial responsibility to administer the Will in conformity with California law and the provisions of the Will.
If the decedent has a valid Will that names a personal representative, that individual or institution will be approved by the probate court, unless the nominated personal representative is found unqualified to serve or is unwilling to serve.
If the decedent failed to name a personal representative, died intestate, or the designated personal representative is found to be either unqualified or is unwilling to serve, the probate court will appoint a personal representative. The surviving spouse, if there is one, receives priority. If the decedent had no spouse, or if the spouse does not wish to serve, another person or institution may be selected by a majority of the decedent’s heirs and approved by the probate court.
What are the duties of the personal representative under California law?
- Identify, gather and safeguard the decedent’s probate assets.
- Publish a notice to creditors in a suitable local newspaper, alerting potential creditors that claims against the estate may be filed.
- Conduct a search to locate “known or reasonably ascertainable” creditors, and notify those parties of the time deadline for filing a claim. Creditors generally have three months from the date of notification to file a claim with the Clerk of the Circuit Court.
- Pay valid claims, and object to improper claims, and defend suits brought on by such claims.
- Serve a notice of administration, alerting interested parties that the estate is being probated, and outlining the steps that must be followed by anyone who objects to the administration of the estate.
- File tax returns and pay any taxes that may be due.
- Pay the expenses of administering the estate.
- Pay statutory amounts to the decedent’s surviving spouse or family. In California, an example of a statutory amount is the elective share (30% of the decedent’s estate) to which the decedent’s surviving spouse is entitled unless the survivor waived the that right under a valid prenuptial or postnuptial agreement. A spouse may also have statutory rights to the decedent’s California homestead property.
- Distribute probate assets to beneficiaries.
- Call upon professionals such as appraisers, investment advisors, lawyers, accountants, etc., to help with the administration of the probate estate.
- Following the satisfaction of all creditors’ claims, the personal representative must follow proper procedures to officially close the probate estate.
Does the Personal Representative have any liability?
Yes. As a fiduciary, if the personal representative mismanages the decedent’s probate estate, the personal representative may have personal liability for any damages incurred by the beneficiaries of the estate.
Why is it necessary to hire a lawyer?
California law requires that an attorney represent the personal representative in probate court proceedings. Most personal representatives lack the extensive knowledge and time to handle the many duties and legal issues that arise, even in the simplest of probate cases. In any event, because the personal representative has liability in handling the estate, it is prudent to hire an experienced probate lawyer. Our experienced probate lawyers advise personal representatives of their rights, duties, and obligations, and guide them through the California probate process.
Even if the will name a specific attorney to handle the probate, the personal representative is not bound to hire that lawyer and may select an attorney he/she wishes.
What are probate assets?
Probate administration applies only to probate assets, which are:
- Assets owned solely by the decedent at the time of death that does not have a named death beneficiary.
- Assets that are co-owned by the decedent but do not have a provision for an automatic succession at death. For example, if Person A and Person B co-own real property as “tenants in common” and A dies, A’s share of the property will not automatically pass to the co-owner (This is in contrast to an asset that is co-owned as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, which means the surviving owner will automatically inherit the decedent’s ownership in the asset and thus, the decedent’s share of the asset would not be considered a probate asset.)
Is probate required if the estate is not taxable?
Yes. It is a common misconception that assets are probated only if they are part of a taxable estate. In fact, virtually all assets titled solely in the name of the decedent are probated if there is no named beneficiary, or a joint tenant with rights of survivorship, regardless of whether the estate is taxable.
What tax filings are required?
Taxes on the decedent’s income during the last year, as well as taxes on the estate, may be due. Our Law Firm’s Certified Public Accountant will assist the personal representative with these filings. Taxes are paid from the funds in the estate. If taxes are not properly paid, the personal representative may incur personal financial liability. Filings include:
- Federal income tax return form 1040, reporting the decedent’s income for the last tax year.
- Federal Income tax return for the estate, reporting the estate’s taxable income.
- Federal Estate tax return form 706, reporting assets in the gross estate.
- Federal Gift tax return form 709, reporting gifts made by the decedent.
Are there different types of California probate?
Yes. Our California probate attorneys will discuss the specific circumstances, examine the decedent’s assets and advise the personal representative of the best approach. The three types of California probate are:
Formal administration: This is the longer version of probate in which letters of administration are issued to the personal representative.
Summary administration: This is a quicker process than formal administration and does not require the appointment of a personal representative. An estate may qualify for summary administration if the gross value of the probate estate is $75,000 or less and there are no debts, or if two years have passed since the decedent’s death and there has been no administration.
Ancillary administration: If the decedent did not reside in California but owned real property in California in his/her name only, the property will need to be probated in California, regardless of whether there is probate in another state.
What if the decedent did not have a will?
A person who dies without a valid will is said to have died “intestate.” Probate is still required in order to identify assets, supervise the payment of creditors, and distribute the decedent’s probatable assets to heirs. Since there is no will that names beneficiaries, the probate court will distribute any assets to heirs in conformity with California intestacy statutes. The order of beneficiary rights is as follows
- If there is a surviving spouse:
- and no lineal descendants, the surviving spouse is entitled to the entire estate.
- and there are lineal descendants, and all lineal descendants are also descendants of the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse is entitled to the entire estate.
- and there are lineal descendants, and not all lineal descendants are descendants of the surviving spouse, the surviving spouse is entitled to one-half of the probate estate, and the descendants of the deceased share the other half of the probate estate in equal shares.
- If there is no surviving spouse and there are lineal descendants, each child is entitled to an equal share, with the children of a deceased child sharing the share of the decease parent (per stirpes).
If there is no surviving spouse and no children or other descendants, California law provices additional rules for distributing an estate in these circumstances.
What if the decedent had a Revocable (Living) Trust?
Assets that are titled in the name of a Revocable Trust will not go through probate. However, certain administrative steps must still be taken. See Trust Administration