Probate is the court administered process of distributing a deceased persons estate to those entitled to receive the decedent's assets. Although generally not a pleasant experience, it can not always be avoided. I plan most of my client's estates with living trusts which will avoid the need for a probate at their death. Not everybody, however, came to me for their estate planning needs, and thus many people will have their estate's probated after they pass away. This process is timely (roughly seven months minimum from date of death to distribution of assets) and costly (a statutory fee of up to 8% is possible), but is required by law in many instances. Generally speaking in California a full probate is required if the assets exceed $100,000.
Under $100,000 - No Real Estate
For small estates with no real property, we help heirs and beneficiaries complete a notarized declaration of the property with an affidavit of death of the property owner. The declaration must include: The claimant's status as an heir, the statement that no probate has begun, a description of the property, and a statement that the estate is worth less than $100,000.00. Heirs who receive the decedent's property become personally liable for any unpaid debts of the decedent, up to the value of the property received. For this reason, it's important to receive an attorney's advice before choosing this probate option.
Under $100,000 - Real Estate
For small estates that include real property, we file a petition which includes an inventory and appraisal of the real property. The value of the assets must be less than $100,000 as determined by a California probate referee. The valuation is as of the date of death. We would get the property appraised, file the petition, get the Court order and record the Court order with the county recorder. This procedure usually takes 6-8 weeks in total.
Some assets such as life insurance policies do not go through the probate process, but our law firm can still help you administer them. You should prepare a list of all the decedent's life insurance policies. We should also know about any beneficial interest they had in anyone else's life insurance policies. After we have examined those policies, we will be available to help you or any beneficiary complete and file the forms.
Under $20,000 - Real Estate
We offer smaller, simplified probate proceedings for estates (including fractional interest in property) worth less than $20,000. This is only for real estate (vacant lots, timeshares, etc...) worth less than $20,000 as of the date of death. We would have the property appraised by the California probate referee, prepare the petition, file it with the Court clerk (the Judge does not typically review these petitions), get the Court order, and then record the order with the county record to effecutate the transfer. This process should take less than a month.
There are a whole host of petitions we could file related to trusts. The most common are to remove the acting trustee, a "Heggstad" petition to transfer property into a trust, and petitions to appoint a trustee. There are many more!
There are a ton of options so make sure you go to an attorney that knows what all the options are in your state! Our law firm conducts these probate processes throughout all Courts in California.
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