How to Start the Probate Process in California

There are several forms and legal steps required to begin the probate process in California as outlined below. However, after reading this article, we recommend supplementing your education with the article How to Fill Out Petition to Probate in California.

Also, consider using the services of A People’s Choice to make the probate process easy and stress-free. See how easy it is to work with us by clicking the button below!

Probate Process in California

The probate process in California takes place after someone dies. Depending on the size of the estate, the process of probating an estate can be surprisingly quick and simple to complete. However, for more substantial estates, the probate procedure may be lengthy and more complicated.

Depending on the type of process, California probate involves:

  • proving in court that a will is valid;
  • identifying and inventorying the deceased’s property;
  • valuing the estate assets;
  • paying debts and taxes; and
  • distributing the remaining property as the will directs or by state law, without a will.

Appointment of a Personal Representative to Probate the Will

The probate process in California requires the appointment of an estate representative. The estate’s personal representative is a person or entity authorized to probate a will in California. More specifically, the personal representative is usually the named executor of the will or administrator of the estate. However, if the decedent did not have a will, certain persons related to the decedent are entitled to appointment as a personal representative. This entitlement works in the following order:

  1. Surviving spouse
  2. Children
  3. Grandchildren
  4. Parents
  5. Siblings
  6. Grandparents
  7. Issue of grandparents

File a Petition for Probate 

Following the appointment of a personal representative, the probate process in California starts with filing a petition for probate. To file the petition, the personal representative must prepare and submit the following forms:

Petition for Probate (Form DE-111)

Form DE-111 outlines the information that will be presented to the court, such as the name of the petitioner, name of the decedent, date of decedent’s death, the existence of a will, the existence of a testamentary executor, and estimated value of the property of the estate.

Original Will

A will is a legal document executed by a person prior to death. Specifically, a will identifies beneficiaries, or the people that are to receive a person’s property and possessions after death. However, a decedent does not have to have a will for the distribution of their estate assets in a full probate proceeding.

Additionally, if the decedent had a will, but it does not comply with the provisions of California statutes, you need to “prove a will” and prepare and file a Proof of Holographic Instrument (Form DE-135) as well as a Proof of Subscribing Witness (Form DE-131).

Notice of Petition to Administer the Estate (Form DE-121)

This form has two main purposes:

1) To notify the persons entitled about the scheduled probate hearing

The personal representative must provide notice on a person or entity by sending a copy of the petition via first-class mail to their address. Additionally, they must provide notice at least 15 days before the hearing unless otherwise specified by local court rules. Note, individuals requiring notice will vary on a case by case basis, but at a minimum, will always include all persons or entities named in the will.

2) Newspaper publication

In addition to providing all interested parties statutory notice of the probate hearing date, the probate process in California requires publication in a legal newspaper. Specifically, this newspaper must be one of general circulation in the city and/or county where the decedent resided at the time of death or where their property is located. Furthermore, the newspaper publication must occur three times in the legal section of the newspaper.

Upon the successful completion of the publication and service upon a person, Proof of Publication and Proof of Service must be filed with the local court. For more information, reference the statutory requirements of California Probate Code Section 19040.

Duties and Liabilities for Personal Representative (Form DE-147)

This form outlines the personal representative’s duties, including:

  • Gathering the decedent’s property
  • Notifying creditors and heirs or devisees
  • Handling debts and taxes
  • Wrapping up the decedent’s final business affairs
  • Transferring the decedent’s property to the right persons
  • Filing any state or federal government-required documents
  • Filing all court-required documents
  • Closing the probate upon completion

Order to Probate (Form DE-140)

The judge grants the Order for Probate to start the probate case timeline.

Letters (DE-150)

The Letters of Testamentary serve basically as a “driver’s license” for the administrator of the estate, and are a proof of the personal representative’s authority. Typically, the administrator will submit a certified copy of Letters to a bank or other agency to prove and verify their authority.

How A People’s Choice Can Help

A People’s Choice can help you prepare the required forms to file a petition for probate in California. Before filing the petition, it is important to verify that all questions on the documents have been properly answered and all required attachments included. If a petition contains incomplete information, the hearing date may be postponed, and the entire process may be subject to obstacles and unnecessary delays. By hiring A People’s Choice, you can ensure that your documents will be accurately and completely filled.

File Your Bond

Most California probate courts require personal representatives to file a bond to protect interested persons such as beneficiaries and creditors in the event of any wrongdoing by the representative. The amount of the bond is fixed based on the estimated value of the decedent’s personal and real property. Additionally, a will may waive the bond requirement, or the heirs and devisees named in the will can agree to waive the requirement.

Appear at the Hearing on Petition to Probate

Once you have completed all necessary forms and filed with the court, the probate hearing will take place. A People’s Choice can make sure you are ready for the hearing by preparing all the correct and complete documents. Additionally, we provide all clients with a detailed manual and self-help reference tool which reviews what to expect during the probate process as well as detailed actions to take every step of the way.

California Probate Steps After Initial Probate Hearing

People are often under the misconception that after the first hearing the probate process in California is almost complete. However, this is not the case. In fact, a typical California probate proceeding usually takes between 9 to 12 months to complete. Unfortunately, after the first probate hearing there still are many more steps required to manage the probate process to its final completion. Luckily, A People’s Choice can save you thousands of dollars compared to using an attorney. We will make sure your probate case proceeds effortlessly through these steps to quickly distribute the estate at the conclusion of the case.

Get help with your California legal documents today!

A People’s Choice can save you hundreds of dollars by preparing your legal documents instead of an expensive attorney!