Many people often assume they need to hire an attorney to probate a will or administer an estate in California. However, the high cost of hiring an attorney and paying statutory attorney’s fees can diminish your loved one’s assets. Therefore, learning how to represent yourself in probate court can prove incredibly useful for anyone looking to probate an estate.
How to Represent Yourself in Probate Court
A People’s Choice has helped thousands of clients file matters pro se (or “for one’s self”) in probate court without hiring a lawyer.
The pro se process begins with a person selecting the right proceeding for their situation. Need some help? Take a look at our probate legal document service to get started. The A People’s Choice website offers compressive information about the various types of probate proceedings.
Probate Court in California
California probate courts carry out the terms of decedents’ wills. This task includes distributing assets to the designated beneficiaries and paying any outstanding debts.
In probate cases, the court works with an executor appointed by the testator’s will. In fact, the executor, or personal representative, can complete the probate process without hiring an attorney. Even if the decedent died without a will, the court will distribute the assets of the estate according to California statutes.
Once your case is in court, it will go to a probate judge in charge of overseeing all probate cases in their jurisdiction. The judge’s role in a 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.
For example, in the case of disputed issues, the probate court judge will settle the disputes and address challenges. However, if the beneficiaries and heirs are cooperative, the probate judge’s role will be minimal. In these situations, the judge simply ensures that the probate process and local rules are being followed and will sign all necessary orders throughout the various probate steps.
Resources for Representing Yourself
There are several legal guides and resources available at local law libraries to help you, as estate administrator, understand the California probate process. Additionally, these guides can teach you how to represent yourself in probate court.
Furthermore, when you work with A People’s Choice, we provide every probate client with a step-by-step detailed self-help legal manual and guide that thoroughly explains the probate proceedings. This booklet is a very valuable reference tool for self-represented probate representatives.
Finally, as the representative of the estate, you can also contact the local court for information related to the standard probate forms and filing deadlines. However, be aware that court staff are unable to give legal advice nor tell you which form to complete and file; doing so is considered unauthorized law practice.
Step-By-Step Guide – How to Represent Yourself
For our clients who want to represent themselves in California probate court, A People’s Choice provides specific steps to help ensure they file the right type of petition.
If you’re interested in representing yourself in probate court and avoiding high attorney’s fees, follow the steps outlined below:
Research local probate court rules and requirements
Before probating an estate or will in California, you should research local probate court rules and requirements. Luckily, most probate courts have rules and requirements listed on their website. These local rules will tell you where and how to probate the will, as well as outline procedures. Additionally, you can visit a local law library to check available practice guides and meet with legal professionals who can help direct you to other resources specifically designed for people representing themselves.
Consult a licensed attorney for legal advice
Depending on the nature of the estate, you may want to consult a licensed attorney for some preliminary legal advice. However, this doesn’t mean you need to hire an attorney to probate the estate or will. Instead, you may just need clarification on the law and its applicability to your situation.
Find an attorney that offers free consultations and ask if they will charge you to review your legal issue. Sometimes, you may not want to share that you are considering representing yourself. Some attorneys will offer little direction or advice to a person they know has no intent of hiring them.
File your initial forms
At A People’s Choice, we can help draft and file all the California probate forms and documents for your case. In fact, 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.
Before filing your petition for probate, you will need to complete the following forms:
- Petition for Probate (Form DE-111)
- Original will, if applicable
- 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 these probate forms, you will need to give all interested parties notice. Plus, you may need to get a bond. However, if a person dies intestate, the court will administer the estate under California intestate succession laws.
Contact us for more information about probating an estate without a will.
Attend initial hearing
Once you have filed the required documents and provided notice to all parties, you have to attend the probate hearing conducted by a probate court judge. During the hearing, if someone contests the will or your acting as the estate’s representative, the judge may continue the hearing. In this situation, there may be other court paperwork and follow-up hearings to solve those issues. Additionally, as the executor or administrator of the estate, you may be required to prepare for trial on disputed matters. This process might include conducting formal discovery and filing motions for specific orders.
However, if no one contests the petition for probate and the paperwork is approved, the court will accept your petition. Then, at the hearing, the probate court judge will enter an order for probate and issue letters of testamentary or administration.
Take additional steps
The probate process takes between five to seven months to complete with many required steps, such as:
- making an inventory of the deceased’s property;
- paying outstanding debts;
- filing all required tax documents;
- listing gifts to beneficiaries; and
- keeping up a detailed accounting of all assets to be sent to all interested parties.
Attend final probate court hearing
The final probate hearing can occur four or more months following the date the court clerk issues letters, which happens after the first probate hearing. Then, at the last court hearing, the judge will approve the final distribution of the estate if there are no errors in the inventory and accounting statements. Additionally, the executor or estate’s representative will distribute gifts or inheritance to beneficiaries or heirs. Once this is done, the representative can petition the court to close the estate and relieve them of all duties.
Hiring a Legal Document Assistant
The easiest way to represent yourself in California probate court is to hire a non-attorney legal document preparer to help with the probate documents and guide you through the process. However, remember to hire a registered legal document assistant with experience preparing the required probate forms. Additionally, make sure whomever you hire has good references. What have other clients said about their service? How easy was the process?
Luckily, A People’s Choice has over 35 years experience assisting clients with probate. You can read some of their testimonials here. Plus, our website has extensive articles on probate law for your reference.
Contact A People’s Choice today for more information on how we can help you represent yourself in probate court.