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 take?

In some ways, this hinges on the personal representative in the probate case. The personal representative to the deceased person is either an assigned executor (if no will was made) or an administrator (if a will has been made). They collect relevant probate assets, pay expenses and debts, and allocate the remaining amount to the estate beneficiaries and legal heirs. Examples of the decedent’s probate assets include bank accounts, stocks and bonds, financial accounts, mutual funds, brokerage accounts, real property, vehicles, death accounts, and other estate funds.

As you might imagine, this is a lot of work. It can take between nine months to a year and a half (based on the types of assets) and the legal priority may involve distributing everything from a trust to real estate and beloved keepsakes. The whole process is supervised by the probate court judge, and some people even choose to hire a probate lawyer to provide legal advice. 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 personal property (1-3 months)
  • Determining the deceased’s heirs or potential beneficiaries (several months)
  • Assigning the substantial assets to the heirs and beneficiaries (several months)
  • Resolving all remaining financial responsibilities of the deceased (1-3 months)
  • Distributing the personal assets to heirs and beneficiaries (2-4 months)

The probate process works toward two hearings, which often add significantly to the probate timeline due to the probate questions asked. In both of these hearings, you are free to select a legal representative such as a probate lawyer. The first probate hearing is scheduled by a probate clerk of the court when one of three petition options has been filed. Some of the probate documents required during this initial hearing include the death certificate for the deceased. The court then schedules your first hearing for the probate proceeding, which can take about 4 to 6 weeks.

The second probate hearing is the Judgment of Final Distribution. The waiting period for this legal process is often 6 to 12 months after the initial hearing. This is where a judge decides the final placement of the deceased’s probate estate, including a trust if there is one. This factor is always gets achieved through simplified procedures. Assets not subject to probate include those in joint tenancy, assets in a living trust, life insurance policy, community property, retirement accounts, and assets subject to the beneficiary designation.

Filing the Petition for Probation and Playing the Waiting Game

To file a petition for probate and make sure the formal proceedings go as swiftly as possible, you have to start the formal process of becoming the probate petitioner. Any relative or beneficiary with validity can undergo these formal proceedings 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 an average time of one 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 (If 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 entire estate. To perform this legal obligation, 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 estate property. Assets can include anything from real property to a life insurance policy.

After gathering information about the estate assets, the personal representative provides 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. All unpaid debts must get defined clearly. This can include costs such as funeral expenses. It is important to note that the estate is personally responsible for the outstanding 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.

Distributions to Heirs and Beneficiaries

At the second hearing, the probate court holds a judgment of the final distribution of the entire estate. The personal representative to the deceased person 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 real property transfers, and liquid asset distribution. Because there might be several 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 during probate administration and the estate’s size. But as long as there is a will and the deceased’s estate is straightforward (with no outstanding income tax returns), the process can be completed within six months. An estate affidavit can also be used when there’s no will.

Some people choose to minimize on wastage of extra time during the probation process of a will by working with a probate lawyer or probate attorney. However, the costs of working with a probate lawyer can be high. Probate 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.

to handle the paperwork.

A People’s Choice Probate Forms

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The short answer is, it depends. The process to Probate a Will in California can be 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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