Understanding the California probate process

Going through the probate process may be complicated, but understanding the process can help.

When people pass away, their property and assets may be eligible for distribution to beneficiaries, depending on the details contained in their will. Before beneficiaries can receive the items willed to them by their relative or loved one, the estate must go through the probate process. In some cases, probate can be somewhat complicated. However, by understanding how the process works, people can make probate much easier.

What happens during the probate process?

Probate is a courtroom process that is held when a person passes away and their property or assets are being transferred to heirs or beneficiaries, according to the American Bar Association. During probate, an estate executor who will manage the estate is appointed. It also occurs when the estate administrator needs to take care of the estate's financial responsibilities and to determine whether a will is valid.

A look at the steps

Once a person has deceased, someone brings forth the will. This is usually the person who the deceased named as the executor to the estate. When there is no will, someone is appointed as the estate administrator or personal representative. Although this may be a relative of the deceased, the administrator may be a third-party who has no relation.

All assets and property are collected, accounted for, inventoried and appraised. These assets include money that people owe to the estate, paychecks that are owed, insurance money, trust funds, retirement accounts and other loan payments.

Once this is completed, the personal representative must pay the expenses, funeral expenses, taxes, bills and creditors that remained on the estate. The administrator pays these bills out of the estate's fund. However, he or she should not have to pay these expenses out of their own funds. In some cases, the estate administrator may choose to hire an attorney to help organize the debts and determine which ones are valid.

The property and assets that remain are then transferred to the heirs and beneficiaries listed on the will. While the estate administrator can sell property at any time, they are not able to distribute the funds until all of the expenses, debts and taxes are paid. There is a minimum of four-month waiting period after all of the creditors are properly notified.

Get the legal help you need

Distributing items in an estate may be difficult, and the estate administrator is often faced with many difficult tasks. An attorney in California may be helpful in answering your questions regarding estate planning. Whether your case is headed to probate or you wish to establish a will or trust, you may wish to seek the counsel of an experienced attorney.