What is Probate? Probate is a legal process that validates the will of a person who passed away and appoints a representative to make sure the beneficiaries receive their inheritance.
After you’ve completed our online questionnaire, we file your court documents, give legal notice of the decedent’s passing, handle communications with the Judge, and provide you with a completed Probate package. Lawyers typically charge $10,000 or more. We do it all for only $4,999 $3,900.
What will an attorney charge to handle your Probate? Our calculator makes it easy to see the statutory attorney fees for your situation.
In California, there are several alternatives to the full, formal probate depending on the value of the estate.
Confused about the probate process? Our checklist will help you understand the responsibilities for filing probate.
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Although only about 20% of all probate filings get approved at the first hearing, if your case is one of the lucky ones and all goes well, the Order for Probate will be approved. At that point, the Court Clerk can issue the Letters. “Letters” is the document of authority that starts the probate timeline and gives the personal representative the authority to manage the assets of the estate and do their other duties.
If there are deficiencies or requested supplemental information that are not able to be addressed prior to the court hearing, the court will continue the matter to a future date to allow a supplement be filed. This is quite common, and a Petitioner should not be alarmed when this happens in their case. It is important, however, to pay particular attention to what deficiencies or other information the court is being requested. You can then relay this information to the person assisting you with your probate paperwork, assuming you are representing yourself in the case.
Ideally, if the court approves the Petition, the Petitioner should get a conformed and file-stamped copy of the Order for Probate and well as several certified copies of the Letters immediately after the hearing. Keep in mind, however, Letters are only issued in full probate. Letters are not issued in small estate proceedings or spousal property proceedings.
The Letters and the Order for Probate are essential, and every effort should be made to get them as soon as possible. In addition to getting a file-stamped copy of the Order, we suggest getting 2-3 certified copies of the Letters, as well. Keep in mind, however, that some courts do not issue the Order for Probate at the hearing. In this regard, the court will mail a copy of the Order several days after the hearing. Unfortunately, the Court Clerk cannot issue the Letters until the judge signed the Order for Probate. As you can see, this delay prevents the personal representative from getting certified copies of the Letters when they are at the hearing. When this happens, it may be necessary for the personal representative to return to the court after they receive the filed Order for Probate in the mail to pay for and order certified copies of the Letters from the Court Clerk.
A People’s Choice is a unique online service in that provides custom, hands-on help for our clients, preparing California probate forms as well as filing them with the court.
This is a question that clients regularly ask just before their scheduled hearing. In probate cases, there is typically a court order that is issued by the court based on the outcome of the hearing. In this regard, if the Order can be lodged with the court before the hearing, we will do so. Unfortunately, not all courts allow documents to be lodged pre-hearing. Therefore, we recommend that clients print and take a copy of the proposed Order and have it available to submit to the court. In addition, since courts may not necessary process the order “on the spot” it is helpful to have a self-addressed, stamped envelope available as well for the court to use to send the filed order back to you.
If you are filling a full probate case and this is your first hearing in the matter, the court will issue “Letters.” Keep in mind Letters are ONLY issued in full probate cases, not small estate matters or spousal proceedings. As with the Order, you will want to have a copy of the original, signed Letters and self-addressed envelope to submit the court for processing if the Letters have not been pre-lodged with the court.
It is always important to keep A People’s Choice informed as to any filed paperwork you may receive from the court. Therefore, upon receiving issued “Letters” or a filed “Order,” you should forward a copy to our office by email.
In most instances, a certified copy of the Court Order will be required. Therefore, if the court does process the Order at the hearing, you should go to the Court Clerk’s Office and get a certified copy of the Order as well as a certified copy of the Letters (in full probate cases.)
Estates that have a gross value of over $166,250 (if decedent died before April 1, 2022) or $184,500 (if decedent died after April 1, 2022) of personal property (assets consisting of cash, stocks, and tangible personal items) normally require probate. Any estate that includes real property worth more than $55,425 (if decedent died before April 1, 2022) or $61,500 (if decedent died after April 1, 2022) requires probate, however there are small estate proceedings that can be used to settle estates having real property valued under $166,250. These alternative proceedings can be completed much quicker and are less expensive than the full probate process. Keep in mind that these values are gross estate values and do not take into account any debts that are owed on the property.
In California, there are several alternatives to the full, formal probate. Some of these are:
If there are no unusual problems, a typical California probate proceeding can be concluded in approximately seven to twelve months. Due to crowded court calendars, hearings are often held six to ten weeks after the initial probate petition is filed. After Letters of Administration are issued, there is a mandatory four-month creditor claim period. There may be other delays in getting a probate referee assigned, completing the inventory and appraisal, dealing with creditors, resolving tax issues, or will contests that could delay the probate for even longer periods.
Anyone who winds up a deceased person’s affairs must see that all legitimate debts are paid. Claims are received two ways – formally and informally.
At the formal level, the Notice of Petition to Administer Estate published in the newspaper gives legal notice to all creditors to file their claims within four months after issuance of the letters. In some circumstances, however, a creditor may file a claim after the four-month period has expired. Claims must be filed with the court and served on the personal representative, or the claims will be invalid. In addition, written notice must be given within four months after letters are issued to all known or reasonably ascertainable creditors and you must continue to give notice as you become aware of new creditors.
Informal claims are made when bills come to the decedent’s last address. Probate Code §10552 allows you to pay the debts at your discretion without court approval or without requiring a formal claim if you have independent administration authority. In addition, when there has been a written demand for payment, Probate Code §9154 allows you to pay debts incurred by the decedent before death within 30 days after the claim period ends without requiring a formal claim, unless for some reason you dispute the amount or legitimacy of the debt.
Assets that are solely in the name of the decedent are generally probate assets. Assets that can transferred through pay-on-death provisions are not considered probate assets. For example, if an asset is owned in joint tenancy (but not if it is owned in tenancy in common) or there is a named beneficiary designated to receive the asset after death of the owner, these assets are not part of the probate state. When pay-on-death designations have been made, the asset avoids probate. All other assets are part of the estate and must be probated in California if the total value exceeds $166,250. If there is a surviving spouse, however, a formal probate can usually be avoided with a spousal property petition.
Usually property cannot be distributed to minor unless a guardian has been appointed for the minor’s estate. There are some exceptions, however, if the amount to be distributed is small, the decedent’s will names a custodian to receive the minor’s property or the minor has a court-appointed guardian.
If there is no appointed guardian, and the decedent did not nominate a custodian to receive the minor’s property but the total estate of the minor (what the minor already owns plus what they are inheriting) does not exceed $5,000, then money or other personal property being inherited by the minor may be delivered to a parent of the minor. They can hold it in trust for the minor until they reach age 18.
If the minor has no guardian of the estate and the decedent did not nominate a custodian, but the property to be transferred does not exceed $10,000 in value, the personal representative may, under certain conditions, designate another adult as custodian. These conditions are:
If money is to be distributed to a minor, the court may order that the money be deposited in a bank account, subject to court supervision.
The probate estate may be closed any time after the expiration of the creditor’s claim period (four months from the date letters are issued) if all debts and taxes have been paid or sufficiently secured, and no problems prevent the estate from being closed. In order to close the estate, the personal representative must file a Petition for Final Distribution. If the court approved the Petition, the estates assets can be distributed to the heirs or beneficiaries.
The estate representative (executor or administrator) represents the estate in a court proceeding. If there is a will which names an executor, that person is the estate representative. If there is no will (the decedent died intestate), the court will choose the estate representative who is called an “administrator.” If there is a will but no executor has been named or the person named is unable to serve, the court will choose the estate representative who is called an “administrator with will annexed.”
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