What happens when someone dies without having made comprehensive plans for the distribution of their estate? The legal procedure by which a decedent’s assets are evaluated by the court and passed down to their heirs is known as probate. The problem with probate is that it is invariably a lengthy, expensive, and stressful process occurring at the worst possible time for a grieving family. Even a relatively simple estate can take 9 months in probate in a California court, and realistically, post-Covid, it is taking twice as long as that. The process will also cost a minimum of 3 to 6 percent of the total value of the estate, draining assets that could have benefited survivors.
Although a will is an essential part of an overall estate plan, on its own it is not enough to avoid probate. Worse, some estates go into probate because the decedent had not yet made any kind of provisions for what should happen after their death. In that case, state law determines how their assets are distributed, whether that’s in accordance with what they might have wanted or not. Whatever the reason an estate goes into probate, here’s what survivors can expect during the process.
Steps of Probate
Probate consists of a series of steps laid out and monitored by the court system to ensure that assets are properly accounted for and distributed. These include:
- Confirming the decedent has a will and filing it with the court in the county where the deceased lived.
- Ordering the original death certificate. This document, or a copy of it, will be required for dealing with institutions like banks that are in possession of the decedent’s assets.
- Filing a petition in probate court. After this petition is filed, the court will appoint the executor named in the will. In cases where there is no will and thus no executor is chosen, the court will appoint an administrator to distribute the estate.
- Locating the decedent’s assets. Tracking down and accounting for every asset included in an estate can be an easy task, in cases where bank accounts, real property, vehicles, jewelry, and other items of value have been well documented and records organized. When it is not clear what the decedent owned, however, this task can take months.
- Verifying and paying all creditor claims filed during probate.
- Filing a final personal tax return for the decedent and paying any outstanding taxes.
- Distributing all remaining assets to beneficiaries and heirs after the estate’s liabilities have been paid.
- Completing an accounting of the estate for the probate court. When this accounting has been approved, the file will be closed and the probate concludes.
Given the complexity of the process, it’s obvious why probate can cause families unnecessary financial and emotional strain. If there are any complications or disputes over the estate, the process becomes even longer and more expensive.
If you’re dealing with probate in the Inland Empire, Orange County, or Los Angeles County you need experienced legal representation to help you navigate potential pitfalls and settle your loved one’s estate as quickly as possible. The expert attorneys at NM Law understand the court systems and can help guide you through the probate process. Our experience will eliminate avoidable delays and smooth the way as much as possible for a successful settlement of the estate. In cases of dispute, we’re litigation professionals who can vigorously represent your interests in court.
In addition to assisting clients with probate matters, NM Law specializes in trust and estate law, to help our clients make effective plans to bypass probate and pass their assets to their heirs according to their wishes without court interference. Our expertise in business law gives us particular insight into the unique challenges faced by business owners in estate planning. If you do not yet have an estate plan, we can evaluate your individual situation and determine the best strategy for a smooth transition of wealth to the next generation. To find out more about our probate and estate law services, contact us here.
Our offices are in Riverside and Tustin, California.