How Long Do You Have to File Probate After Death?

If you know someone who has been through probate in California, you probably noticed it can take a while. But how long do you have to file probate after death? How long does this sometimes complicated process really take?

In some ways, this hinges on the personal representative in the probate case. The personal representative is either an assigned executor (if no will was made) or an administrator (if a will has been made). They collect relevant assets, pay expenses and debts, and allocate the remaining amount to the beneficiaries of the estate who have the legal right to it. 

As you might imagine, this is a lot of work. It can take between nine months to a year and a half and may involve distributing everything from a trust to real estate and beloved keepsakes. The whole process is supervised by the court, and some people even choose to hire a probate lawyer. Others opt for a legal document assistance service to save time and money. Whichever way you go about it, here’s a breakdown of how long do you have to file probate after death in California.

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The California Probate Process: The Most Time-Consuming Parts

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So, how long do you have to file probate after death? Probate deals with the following matters, and each step takes anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

  • Settling whether a last will and testament exists and if it’s still valid (several weeks)

  • Determining the deceased’s assets (1-3 months)

  • Determining the deceased’s heirs or beneficiaries (several months)

  • Assigning the deceased’s assets to the heirs and beneficiaries (several months)

  • Resolving all remaining financial responsibilities of the deceased (1-3 months)

  • Distributing assets to heirs and beneficiaries (2-4 months)

The probate process works toward two hearings, which often add significantly to the probate timeline. The first hearing is scheduled by a probate clerk of the court when one of three petition options has been filed. The court then schedules your first hearing, which can take about 4 to 6 weeks.

The second hearing is the Judgment of Final Distribution. The waiting period for this is often 6 to 12 months after the first hearing. This is where a judge decides the final placement of the deceased’s assets, including a trust if there is one.

Filing the Petition for Probation and Playing the Waiting Game

To file a petition for probation and make sure the process goes as swiftly as possible, you have to start the formal process of becoming the probate petitioner. Any relative or beneficiary with validity can undergo this process by filing California form DE – 111. However, it is ideal that this process is carried out by the executor of the will.

This formal part of the probate process is lengthy and can take up to a year to proceed. To get started, you must file the petition at the California Superior Court within the county where the deceased resided during their time of death. The petition has three options as follows:

  • Petition for Probate of Will and Letters Testamentary (An executor requesting to be deemed the personal representative. The letters of testamentary allow the personal representative to act on behalf of the estate.)

  • Petition for Probate of Will and Letters Testamentary with Will Annexed (In the event that the existing will does not name an executor.)

  • Petition for Letters of Administration (If there is no will.)

The petition also comes with several other forms you need to fill out. A judge eventually signs some of these forms.

Determining Assets and Paying Bills/Creditors

Two of the personal representative’s tasks are determining assets and paying off any existing debts of the estate. To do this, the personal representative must undergo a process to take control of the estate’s assets known as “collecting.” The personal representative is also in charge of protecting and managing the assets on the estate’s behalf. Assets can include anything from real property to life insurance payouts.

After gathering information about the assets, the personal representative provides a formal notice to each creditor about the death utilizing the form (DE-157). The personal representative then begins the process of settling any valid debts owed, creditor by creditor, by the estate of the deceased with the estate’s own money. This can include costs such as funeral expenses. It is important to note that the estate is personally responsible for these debts; the personal representative doesn’t pay them out of pocket.

During all this, the personal representative keeps a careful account of all the money transacted from in and out of the estate after the death of the owner. Because every asset must go to a specific person or creditor eventually, these transactions must have a clear explanation and a valid explanation.

Distributions to Heirs and Beneficiaries

At the second hearing, a court holds a judgment of the final distribution of assets. The personal representative then begins distributing assets to the correct heirs or beneficiaries (which often includes family) according to the court’s decisions. This step includes real estate, other property transfer, and liquid asset distribution. Because there may be quite a number of assets, this can be a time-consuming process.

How Can I Probate a Will Faster in California?

How long do you have to file probate after death? It depends on the case’s complexity and the estate’s size. But as long as there is a will and the deceased’s estate is straightforward, the process can be completed within six months.

Some people choose to speed up the probation process of a will by working with a probate lawyer or attorney. However, the costs of working with a probate lawyer can be high. Costs are predetermined by the state, so you’ll be charged the same amount whichever probate lawyer you choose. A good alternative to speed your case along is using a hiring a legal document assistant like A People’s Choice

to handle the paperwork.

A People’s Choice Probate Forms

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How long do you have to file probate after death in California? The short answer is, it depends. The process to Probate a will in California can be difficult and complicated without proper direction and guidance. But don’t worry; you don’t need to put your trust in a lawyer to get through probate. Speaking to the right people and using resources like A People’s Choice can make everything go smoother and faster.

Understanding the will’s complexity, working with a qualified professional, and knowing what forms to use can make the process easier than you think. So, call us and start your paperwork today!

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