Many people often assume that they need to hire an attorney to probate a will or administer an estate in California. The high costs associated with hiring an attorney and paying statutory attorney’s fees can result in your loved one’s assets being diminished to cover legal expenses. If you are wondering how to represent yourself in probate court in California, A People’s Choice has great news: you do not need an attorney to probate an estate in California. You can determine what the statutory attorney fees would be for a probate and how much you will save by accessing our online probate calculator.
Can You Represent Yourself in Probate Court?
At A People’s Choice, we have helped thousands of our clients file their matter pro se in probate court. The word pro se is a latin phrase that means “for one’s self.” This means when a client files legal proceedings in pro se, they want to represent himself/herself in court and do not want to have to hire a lawyer. In order to represent yourself in court, the pro se process begins with a person selecting the right proceeding that is proper for his/her situation. Take a look at our probate legal document service to get started. A People’s Choice offers compressive information about the various types of probate proceedings on our website. Read on to learn more about how to represent yourself in probate court.
Probate Court Overview in California
California probate courts are used to carry out the terms of a deceased person’s will, which includes distributing his/her assets to the designated beneficiaries, and paying any outstanding debts. The testator will appoint an executor of their estate in his/her will. The executor/personal representative can complete the probate process without hiring an attorney. If the decedent died without a will, the assets of the estate will be distributed according to California statutes.
There are several legal guides and resources available at local law libraries to help you as estate administrator understand the California probate process and teach you how to represent yourself in probate court. A People’s Choice also provides every probate client with a step-by-step detailed self-help legal manual and guide that fully explains the probate proceedings. This booklet is a very valuable reference tool for self-represented probate representatives. As the representative of the estate, you can also contact the local court for information related to the standard probate forms and filing deadlines. Be aware, however, that court staff are unable to give legal advice nor tell you which form to complete and file; doing so is considered the unauthorized practice of law.
Proceeding through Probate Without a Lawyer
If you decide to go ahead with the probate process without a lawyer, you will need to take specific steps to make sure you file the right type of petition to probate the estate. Follow the steps outlined below if you plan to represent yourself in probate court:
Research Local Probate Court Rules and Requirements
The first thing you should do prior to probating an estate or probating a will in California is research local probate court rules and requirements. Most probate courts have rules and requirements listed on their website. These local rules will tell you where you are required to probate the will, the process involved, and the required notices that must be made. Go to a local law library to check available practice guides and meet with legal professionals who can help direct you to other resources specifically designed or people representing themselves in pro per.
Consult with a Licensed Attorney for Legal Advice
Depending on the nature of the estate, you may want to consult with a licensed attorney for some preliminary legal advice. This does not mean you need to hire an attorney to probate the estate or to probate a will. You just may need clarification on a law and its applicability to your situation that can be provided to you during a consultation. Find an attorney that provides free consultations. Ask the attorney if he/she will charge you to review your legal issue and how much it will cost. Sometimes it may be wiser to not specifically disclose that you are considering representing yourself. Some attorneys will offer little direction or advice to an individual whom they know has no intent on hiring them.
File Your Initial California Probate Forms
At A People’s Choice, we can help draft and file all the California probate forms and probate documents. We can help you save hundreds and even thousands of dollars by preparing your probate documents instead of hiring an expensive attorney to do it for you. You will need to complete the following forms prior to filing your petition for probate:
- Petition for Probate (Form DE-111)
- Original Will (if there is one)
- Notice of Petition to Administer the Estate (Form DE-121)
- Duties and Liabilities for Personal Representative (Form DE-147)
- Order to Probate (Form DE-140)
- Letters (Form DE-150)
In addition to preparing the above referenced probate forms, you will need to give notice to all interested parties and may be required to get a bond. If a person dies intestate, the estate will be administered under California intestate succession laws. Contact us for more information about probating an estate without a will.
Probate Court Judge
A probate judge in California is an appointed or elected judicial official who is in charge of overseeing all probate cases filed in his or her jurisdiction. Their role in the probate case will vary, depending on a number factors such as whether the decedent died with or without a will and whether the beneficiaries or heirs are cooperative with each other. When there are disputed issues, the rule of the probate court judge will be to settle disputes and address challenges. If the beneficiaries and heirs are cooperative with each other and there are no disputes, the probate judge’s role in overseeing the probate estate will be minimal. In these situations, the probate judge will simply make sure that the probate process and local rules are being properly followed and will merely sign all necessary orders throughout the various probate steps.
Probate Court Initial Hearing
Once you have filed the required documents and provided notice to all interested parties, you will be required to attend the probate hearing. The hearing will be conducted before a probate court judge. During the hearing, if someone contests the will or contests you acting as the estate’s representative, the judge may continue the hearing. In this situation, additional court paperwork and subsequent hearings may need to take place to solve those issues. As the executor or administrator of the estate, you may be required to prepare for trial on disputed issues. This process might include conducting formal discovery and filing motions to have certain orders made.
If no one contests the Petition for Probate, however, and everything was done correctly, the court will accept your petition to probate. At the hearing, the probate court judge will enter an Order for Probate, Letters of Testamentary can be issued and the matter can proceed to the next step in the probate process.
The Probate Process in California
The probate process takes between 5 to 7 months to complete. During this process, there are many different steps that need to be completed before the estate is ready to close. As the executor or administrator of the estate, you will be tasked with making an inventory of the deceased’s property, pay outstanding debts, file all required tax documents, list gifts to beneficiaries, and keep up a detailed accounting of all assets. Accounting statements must be sent to all interested parties unless this process is waived by the beneficiaries.
Final Probate Court Hearing
The final probate hearing cannot take place earlier that 4 months after the date Letters are issued after the initial probate hearing. At the final court hearing, the judge will approve the final distribution of the estate if there are no errors made on the inventory and accounting statements. The executor or estate’s representative will distribute gifts or inheritance to beneficiaries or heirs. Once this is completed, the representative can petition the court to close the estate and be relieved of all duties.
Probate Resources for California Probates
As mentioned above, there are several resources on local courthouse websites that can teach you the basics of how to represent yourself in probate court and complete the probate process. The easiest way to represent yourself is hire a non-attorney probate legal document preparer to help with the probate documents and guide you through the process. It is important to hire a registered legal document assistant who has experience in preparing the required probate forms. Make sure whomever you hire has good references from other people they have helped get through the probate process without a lawyer. What have other clients said about their service? How easy was the process? Our website has extensive articles on probate law that can be of use as well. Contact us for more information on how we can help you represent yourself in probate court.