California Estate Planning: The Probate Process
UPDATED: January 6, 2020
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What is probate and how does it work in California? Traditionally, probate was a process that was used to prove that a will was valid in court. However, according to a California legal expert, the process has become a bit overwhelming - especially for those who decide to tackle it themselves.
What is probate?
Most people cringe when they find out that they're going to be involved in a probate action. However, that may be so because they don't really understand what it is. We asked Vincent J. Russo, a California attorney whose practice consists of estate planning and probate litigation, to explain it in simple terms. He told us, "From a practical standpoint, the main purpose is to transfer title to property, to prove a will if there is one, to collect any of the decedent assets and inventory those for the court in order to pass those assets onto the attended beneficiaries, resolve any outstanding creditor claims and to identify any heirs or people who would be entitled to a piece of your estate."
A sometimes challenging process
The process is a little bit overwhelming, according to Russo, who told us that there's a lot of paperwork and there are fees associated with the value of the estate. He explained, "Attorneys' fees are also associated with the value of the state and they give you a set percentage in California. It's a very small percentage, but it's a percentage and it adds up because if you have a million dollar estate, that's a lot of money. The process would be to file a petition, serve everyone and get letters issues. Once letters are issued, then you wait the statutory time period to do an accounting, you let the accountant do a final inventory and then file that with the court."
Russo says that other challenges arise when can't find someone or get them served and people may be disagreeing on all sorts of issues - which takes additional time and creates a great deal more paperwork. However, once the letters are issued, he says that the court will appoint an administrator and that person will manage the estate and the resolution of the probate proceeding. He explained what happens next:
Why hiring a lawyer makes sense
Russo advises anyone that's trying to do a probate themselves to just hire a lawyer. He explained why:
I would just advise them to hire a professional, they are all going to basically charge you the same amount for ordinary services because it's statutory in California, lawyers don't set the dollar amount for ordinary services. There are such things that are considered extraordinary services, which are treated differently. An example would be when people don't agree with everything and are fighting out their differences in court.
Estate planning, which includes wills, trusts, health care directives and probate issues, is a complicated area of the law. If you would like to speak with an experienced California estate planning lawyer about your situation, please click here.