Probate

If you are here to learn about California probate after the passing of a loved one, we first want to say that we are very sorry for your loss.  We hope that the information you find on this page will simplify any legal and administrative headaches you might otherwise face during such a difficult time.

With that said, probate in Southern California is a court-supervised procedure that helps to ensure the legal transfer of assets from the deceased to the rightful heirs or beneficiaries.  Probate in San Bernardino County and Riverside County is also necessary to:

  • Prove the validity of the will
  • Appoint someone to manage the estate (The “administrator” if there is no will or the “executor” if there is one)
  • Inventory and appraise the estate property
  • Pay any debts or taxes (including estate taxes)
  • Distribute the property as direct by the will—or by the state law if there is no will

In California, if someone has $150,000 in total assets or real property valued over $50,000, they will probably have to have their assets probated.

What’s so bad about probate in California…and what should I do next?

Many residents in San Bernardino and Riverside County have heard that probate is bad news.  It tends to be very expensive, it’s time-consuming, and it’s also a public process.

The easiest way to avoid the probate process is to plan; but if you are now in a situation where you must go through probate courts to finalize the estate of a loved one, the best thing you can do is get educated and get help to complete the process as quickly, and cost-effectively, as possible.

How is a Probate Started in California?

Although any beneficiary or creditor can initiate probate, normally the person named in the will as the Executor starts the process by filing the original will with the court and filing a Petition with the probate court. If there is no will, typically a close relative of the decedent who expects to inherit from the estate will file the Petition.

How is the Executor Chosen?

If the decedent had a will, the person named in the will as the Executor will serve, if eligible. If that person is unable or unwilling to serve as Executor, or if there is no Will, then any interested family member or person can petition the Court to be the administrator of the Estate.

How does the Executor Get Paid?

California law provides that the Executor gets paid according to a compensation schedule, based on a percentage of the assets of the probate estate.

Could I Be Held Personally Liable For Making a Mistake as an Executor?

Being an Executor is a big responsibility. California’s probate code contains pages upon pages of complex legal rules and procedures that an Executor must follow during the probate. Also, there are certain deadlines that an Executor must meet in filing papers with the Court. If an Executor violates any of these rules, they can be held personally liable for losses to the estate.

My loved one had a trust…will we need to go through probate?

In most cases, no.  If your loved one’s assets are owned in the name of a Trust, the family can contact a lawyer who will complete some paperwork and guide the loved ones through the process with ease without the need for court involvement.

Unfortunately, many people who have a Trust think they have it all taken care of.  But time and again, the family is coming into my office after there is a death and they are going to experience the frustration, expense and delay of a probate.

Why Is that?

Often the Trust was prepared many years ago and was never updated; and often, their loved ones’ assets were not owned in the name of their Trust.  That is why it is so important that you carefully choose your estate planning attorney and have regular reviews of your trust so it works as planned.

What Assets are Subject to Probate?

Assets owned solely in the name of the deceased person are subject to probate. Assets that pass by means of title, such as real estate titled as “Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship,” or bank accounts titled as “Transfer On Death” are not subject to the probate process. Assets that pass by means of a beneficiary designation, such as life insurance or some retirement accounts, are also not subject to probate. In some situations, however, assets that would otherwise pass by title or beneficiary designation can be subject to the probate process.  Talk to an attorney if you have questions about your specific situation.

How is Distribution of the Estate Handled if there is no Will?

If there is no will or trust, the estate will be distributed according to California probate and intestate laws, which state that a person’s estate will be distributed in the following order:
 1. Spouse 2. Children 3. Parents (if you have no children) 
4. Siblings (if you have no children or parents).

How long does Probate take?

The length of time of a probate will depend on several factors. It usually takes a minimum of 12 months and can take up to two years or even longer for complex cases.

How much does Probate Cost?

Probate legal fees are set by state law (California Probate Code Section 10800) and are determined based on the size of the probate estate as follows:
• 4% of the first $100,000
• 3% of the next $100,000
• 2% of the next $800,000
• 1% of the next $9,000,000
• ½% of the next $15,000,000
• For all amounts above $25,000,000, a reasonable amount to be determined by the Court.

The Personal Representative (i.e. Executor or Administrator) is also entitled to the statutory fee for their services. The California Probate court can order additional fees for more complicated cases or extraordinary services. There are also court costs and filing fees, document certification and recording fees, and property appraisal fees.

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