When the owner of an estate passes away, there is a process that must be completed before the loved ones of that person receive what they will rightly inherit. This legal process is called probate, which refers to the administration of a person’s will or estate (if there is no will) following their death.
If an executor is named in a will, then that person is appointed by the court when it is time to distribute the various assets of someone’s estate. If no one is named, a court appoints their own professional to carry out this task.
The probate administration process can be a lengthy one, which makes sense when you consider the many steps involved. Although the decedent may have decided who would benefit from their assets when they died, there are certain things that still need to be calculated and dealt with, such as final income taxes, estate taxes, and debts.
How Long Does Probate Typically Take?
Probate administration can range in time depending on the complexity of a person’s assets, but on average, probate in California takes about 12-18 months. It is not unheard of for the process to take up to two years or more, however. This can happen due to a few reasons.
Contesting of the will is one reason a probate administration may take a longer time. If a member of the family or another beneficiary decides to contest an aspect of the will, additional measures must be taken to judge this claim, adding to the length of the probate administration process.
Complicated assets are another situation that can add time to the process. While monetary savings are straight forward, some people own assets that are of a more complex variety. Business interests and other investments, for example, may require a lengthier proceeding to accurately distribute.
The Stages of a Probate Administration
If none of these circumstances, such as contesting the will or complicated assets, are present, a common probate administration can be expected to carry out the following steps:
- Finding the will. If your loved one had worked with a lawyer to create their will, this can be as simple as contacting them to let them know of their client’s passing. The lawyer will know what to do next in terms of getting the will’s administration started. If the will was written without legal aid and kept somewhere safe by the deceased person, it may be harder to find. It is important to check drawers, files, storage units, and other spots where they may have thought to put their will. If you are not able to find the decedent’s will, the court can appoint someone to serve as an administrator of the intestate (no will) estate.
- Obtaining a death certificate. An original death certificate should not be hard to get a hold of, and it is something you will need when dealing with banks, insurance companies, the court, and more.
- Locating the assets. Locating all of the assets a person possessed can be the lengthiest step to the probate administration process. You and the executor of the will may not know all of the accounts that the decedent had, or other statements that may surface in the mail and indicate more assets. This can be a waiting game, collecting mail and making calculations as they come. Even then, some assets will likely need professional appraisals to report their true value.
- Filing a petition for probate. Filing a petition for probate with the probate court typically includes a copy of the will and death certificate, along with your petition for probate. If there was indeed a will found, the person the decedent named to serve as the executor of the will shall be appointed by the judge overseeing this petition.
- Paying the decedent’s taxes. Paying the decedent’s creditors and taxes is a task we do not immediately think of following a loved one’s death. However, it is the duty of the executor to work out the decedent’s bills, including from the final illness and any medical bills that follow, and pay them. The executor then must file the decedent’s final income tax return, along with the estate tax return.
- Bestowing assets to beneficiaries. The executor or administrator can distribute the decedent’s assets to the legal heirs and beneficiaries once the final taxes and any remaining debts are calculated. If there was a will, this can be straightforward. If there was no will, however, the assets are distributed according to the laws of intestacy.
- Closing the estate. The final proceedings go to the probate court for approval, which should be a smooth process. After all of the previous steps are approved, the court closes the probate file.
Help From a California Probate Attorney
Whether you are in need of someone to assist in a loved one’s probate administration or you are planning ahead for your own family’s security upon your eventual passing, hiring a California probate attorney can be an extremely helpful action to take.
At Huber Fox, P.C., we have the extensive knowledge and hands-on experience you need when it comes to probate administration. We know how to make what can be a lengthy and complex process a smooth one, getting assets into the hands of beneficiaries sooner and with less hiccups.
As probate and trust attorneys, you can rely on the professionals at Huber Fox, P.C. to keep your assets safe, keep track of bills and accounts, appraise property, contact heirs, transfer titles, and more.
When a loved one dies, the last thing anyone wants to worry about is financial issues. What should be a time for grieving can often turn into a legal nightmare if there wasn’t a lawyer involved in the creation and execution of the deceased’s will. Allow the attorneys at Huber Fox, P.C. to make sure you and your family have less to worry about when this time comes. Contact us today to learn more about the services we offer.