Probate from A to Z: A Complete Walkthrough on California Probate.
If you have had a loved one die in the recent past, you may be notified that their estate has to go through probate court before it can be distributed. The probate process is a legal matter where all the assets of their estate are identified, their value is determined, any outstanding debts or taxes
Steps 1 - 3Setting the Executor or Personal Representative
Prior to any official court proceeding, someone will need to be named to oversee the
probate process. In many cases, the deceased has a Last Will and Testament, which
will typically identify someone who will take on this role. If there is no Will or nobody is
appointed, the court will name someone to take this responsibility. The person who is
serving as the personal representative of the estate must act impartially, and they will
have a variety of duties that they must complete.
Filing a Petition
In order to start the actual probate process, someone must file a petition with the
California Superior Court. This is done in the county where the deceased resided when
they passed away. Once this is filed, the courts will schedule a hearing, which will
typically take place within about 30 days.
Making the Notices
Once the petition is filed with the courts, a notice of hearing must be published so that
interested parties can get involved where appropriate. A notice must be published in the
local newspaper a minimum of three separate times. Additionally, everyone who is
named in the Will, all legal heirs, and any creditors or potential creditors will need to be
notified. It is essential to ensure this process is done correctly as if someone who
should have been notified isn’t, they may be able to file a complaint down the road. The
notices will be managed by the personal representative who was identified in the first
Steps 4 - 7Proving the Will
In cases where the deceased has a Will, the courts will need to prove that it is valid.
This is a process where all the assets of the deceased’s estate are identified and a
value is assigned to them. This is another process that the personal representative or
executor will be responsible for. Ideally, all the assets will be listed in the Will so all that
needs to be done is to collect them and have their value determined. A Will may also be
self-proving, in which case most of this step can be skipped.
Collecting of Assets
The personal representative of the estate will need to collect all the assets that need to
go through probate. Keep in mind that many assets don’t need to go through the
probate process, so it is necessary to determine what will require this step and what
won’t. While the probate process is ongoing, the personal representative will also need
to care for all the assets. This responsibility includes things like:
• Paying Monthly Bills for a Home
• Winterizing a Boat or other asset (if necessary)
• Ensuring the Home is Kept in Good Working Order
• Maintaining Insurance on Vehicles and Homes
Many of the assets in question will simply require that the personal representative attain
the title or other documentation so that it can be properly appraised and distributed
when the time comes.
Paying All Debts
If the deceased had any outstanding debts, they will need to be paid out of the estate
first. Those creditors, however, must file a claim against the estate. Once that claim is
filed, the courts will determine the legitimacy of the claim. Examples of common debts
that make claims in probate include funeral expenses, credit card debt, personal loans,
bills, and more. In the state of California, all claims must be made by creditors within
four months of the time when the personal representative is named for the estate.
Addressing Final Tax Requirements
When someone passes away, there are often a variety of tax implications. The personal
representative is responsible for determining what taxes need to be paid and getting
them paid out of the assets in the estate. In many cases, this is much like filing a final
tax return to ensure the total tax burden has been met. Larger estates may have an
estate tax that needs to be paid as well. If the taxes aren’t paid properly prior to the
distribution of the assets to heirs, the personal representative may have some liability
for the money owed.