The probate process in California can be complex, confusing, and often lengthy. Suppose you are an executor of a will or the administrator of an estate. In that case, you must understand each party’s steps to complete the probate proceedings.
It’s also essential to ensure everything is done correctly. Any errors could lead to unnecessary delays. Plus, it can also add more cost to the estate’s budget.
In this blog, we provide novice executors/administrators with some guidance on navigating through all stages of probate in California.
File the Petition
The first step is to file a petition with the court. This document will detail the following information:
- Names of all parties involved in the proceedings
- List any assets to include in the estate
- Debts to settle
- Executor’s name
Additionally, this document may request court approval for certain actions such as transferring assets, selling property, or paying off debts.
If there are creditors with claims against the estate, the executor must notify them of the probate proceedings.
You must also assess and identify probate assets to determine their value at the time of death because some assets are exempt from the probate process. These include the following.
- Jointly owned property
- Life insurance policies
- Retirement accounts
If you’re wondering, do household items go through probate? Yes, they do. Household items such as furniture, cars, and clothing are also subject to the probate process.
Publication of the Notice of Hearing
The next step is to publish a notice of hearing in the local newspaper. This hearing is open to creditors, beneficiaries, and other parties interested in the proceedings. The hearing allows them to raise their objections.
In case of no objections, the court can move forward with granting authority to the executor or administrator of the estate. However, the court must intervene if there are disputes over the assets.
First Probate Hearing
Once the publication is complete, the court will hold a hearing to consider any objections and approve the petition.
During this hearing, the estate’s executor or administrator must provide evidence that the compiled list of assets is authentic and that they have notified the creditors.
If all parties are satisfied and the court approves the petition, the executor will have the authority to act on behalf of the estate.
Be Prepared to Post a Bond
Once the executor has the authority, they might have to post a bond with the court. This bond helps protect the estate from mismanagement and ensures all assets are well-handled.
Since the executor is responsible for any debts incurred during probate, having a bond to reduce the risk of financial liability is a must.
Proving the Will
The next step is to prove the will to the court. It involves submitting a copy of the will and any necessary documents, such as death certificates or testamentary documents.
Once the court is satisfied that the will is valid, they will issue a Certificate of Proof. It confirms that the court legally recognizes the deceased’s wishes.
Additionally, if the deceased had specified any beneficiaries in the will, it’s essential to notify them of their inheritance.
Distribution of Assets
Once all creditors have been paid and any remaining debts settled, the executor or administrator can distribute assets to the beneficiaries.
During this process, the executor must follow the deceased’s wishes (as outlined in the will). Any assets not included in the will must be distributed according to the state’s intestacy laws determining who is entitled to receive the assets.
Designation of Probate Referee
The court may appoint a probate referee to oversee the proceedings. The probate referee is responsible for ensuring that all assets get distributed according to the deceased’s wishes. They’ll also see that all creditors receive their money.
The probate referee has the authority to make decisions on behalf of the court and will provide an independent opinion on any disputes that arise.
Moreover, suppose anyone sells any assets during the probate process. In that case, the probate referee will ensure it happens at fair market value.
Payment to Creditors
Once the executor has the authority to act on behalf of the estate, they must ensure all creditors are paid. It involves verifying any claims from creditors, negotiating payment terms, and ensuring all debts are settled.
The executor or administrator is responsible for ensuring that all payments are made correctly and that any remaining assets are distributed according to the deceased’s wishes. As such, they must provide evidence of all payments made and ensure they align with the terms outlined in the will.
After asset distribution and debt settlements, the court will hold a second hearing to review the executor’s work.
At this hearing, the court will review all transactions to ensure they have been handled correctly and are in line with the deceased’s wishes. If satisfactory, the executor will receive their discharge, and the probate process will be complete.
Payment of Estate Taxes
If the estate is subject to any taxes, the executor or administrator must pay them before the end of the probate process. It involves filing the necessary tax returns and paying due taxes in full.
It’s important to note that the executor or administrator ensures all taxes are paid correctly and on time. Failure to do so can result in penalties or even criminal charges.
Closing the Estate
The executor or administrator can file the necessary papers to close the estate. They can do so through a petition for final distribution and discharge.
Once the court approves the petition, it will issue an Order of Final Discharge, confirming that all debts have been settled and the estate is closed.
This step ensures the probate process is officially complete, and the executor or administrator can step down from their role.
The probate process in California can be long and complicated. But following all the steps correctly can help you fulfill your loved one’s final wishes.
If you need help understanding any part of the process, contact an experienced probate attorney. They can guide you through the entire process and help you handle the probate process efficiently.