Ultimate guide to probate in California
California probate is not always easy, but this guide will break down the process and answer commonly asked questions about probate in California.
What is probate in California?
Probate in California is a court-supervised, formal proceeding that validates a Will (if there is one), appoints an executor, and works through the process to settle an estate. After paying any debts and taxes the estate may owe, the remaining assets will be distributed to rightful heirs and beneficiaries.
Note that while the role is the same, in California probate, the “executor” is known as a “personal representative.” Another key difference about probate in California is that it’s not one of the 16 states that follows the Uniform Probate Code (UPC). The UPC is a standardized code used by several states in an attempt to make the probate process more uniform from state to state. Thus, certain aspects of probate in California can be slightly different from states who’ve adopted the UPC.
How much does probate cost in California
There are several probate fees that will be common in any state. Things like the following should be expected:
Court and filing fees
Professional fees – for accountants, surveys, and appraisals
Attorney fees (if you use one)
California probate fees might also include a probate bond, unless the Will specifically waives it or all beneficiaries agree to forego it. California also sets all executor fees by statute. Note that an executor can always waive their fee if they choose to do so.
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PROBATE PROCESS STEPS
How to start probate in California
There is a general process for starting probate in California. You’ll first need to get in contact with the probate court. From there, you’ll simply:
Get yourself (or whomever will fill the role) appointed as executor (in California this role is known as personal representative).
Provide the court with the Will, if one exists.
Take inventory of all assets.
Determine valuations for any probate assets (note, you may need to involve a professional appraiser for this step).
Ensure the court and beneficiaries approve valuations.
Pay off any debts/taxes the estate owes.
Distribute any remaining assets to the appropriate beneficiary.
As the personal representative, you should also be prepared to:
Set up a checking account for the estate
Acquire an EIN
Read and understand the Will
Work and communicate with beneficiaries
Notify creditors of the decedent’s death
Understand and abide by legal deadlines associated with the probate process
Pay final bills
File tax returns on behalf of the estate
Submit a death certificate
Keep receipts of any payments made or debts that were paid off
Officially close the estate at the end of the process
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Commonly asked questions about probate in California
The most important include: Certificate of Filing Will; Petition of Probate; Notice to Creditors; Bond/Waiver of Bond; List of Interested Persons; Filing Inventory/Appraisal; Ongoing/Annual Accounting Records; Notice to Beneficiaries; Filing to close probate; and Release of Liability/Responsibility.
That said, there are 3 types of probate in California: Simple Probate by Affidavit; Summary Probate – Small Estate Administration; and Formal or Full Probate.
4 months – Time allowed after letters are issued to submit asset inventory and valuations to the courts.
4 months – Time allowed for a personal representative to make any changes to valuations or add new assets after finding information out.
30 days – Time allowed to petition court after the decedent’s passing.
30 days – Time allowed to notify creditors (after finding out about each), OR by 4 months after formally initiating the probate process.*
*Note: the most common mistake personal representatives make is failure to properly notify creditors.
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