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. For more substantial estates, however, the probate procedure may be lengthy and more complicated. Depending on the type of process, probate involves:
- Proving in court that a deceased person’s will is valid.
- Identifying and inventory the deceased person’s property.
- Having the estate assets valued.
- Paying debts and taxes.
- Distributing the remaining property as the will (or state law, if there’s no will) direct.
Starting the Probate Process in California
There are several forms and legal steps to complete to begin the probate process in California. Below is a general overview of the forms you must fileand the legal requirements that must be met to begin probate. After you read this article, we recommend you read a detailed article discussing How to Fill Out Petition to Probate in California.
Appointment of 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 that is authorized to probate a will in California. The personal representative is usually the named executor of the will or administrator of the estate. If the decedent did not have a will, then certain persons related to the decedent are entitled to be appointed as a personal representative in the following order:
- Surviving spouse
- Brothers and sisters
- Issue of grandparents
How to File a Petition for Probate in California
In California, the probate process starts with filing a petition for probate. The personal representative must prepare and submit the following forms:
1. Petition for Probate (Form DE-111) – This form defines the information that will be presented to the Court, such as:
- Name of the Petitioner
- Name of the decedent
- Date of decedent’s death
- The existence (or nonexistence) of a will
- The existence (or nonexistence) of a testamentary executor
- Estimated value of the property of the estate
2. Original Will – A Will is a legal document executed by a person prior to death. A will identifies those people that are to receive his or her property and possessions after death. These people are commonly referred to as the beneficiaries. It is not necessary, however, for a decedent to have a Will to have the estate assets distributed through a full probate proceeding.
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 the following other forms:
- Proof of Holographic Instrument (Form DE-135)
- Proof of Subscribing Witness (Form DE-131)
3. Notice of Petition to Administer the Estate (Form DE-121) – This form has two main purposes:
- To notify the persons who are entitled to receive notice about the scheduled probate hearing.
- For newspaper publication
4. Duties and Liabilities for Personal Representative (Form DE-147) – A Personal Representative is a person appointed by the court who handles the probate. The Personal Representative is responsible for all the following:
- Gathering property owned by the person who died.
- Notifying creditors and heirs or devisees.
- Handling debts and taxes.
- Wrapping up the final business affairs of the person who died.
- Transferring property owned by the person who died to the right persons.
- Filing any documents required by the state or federal government.
- Filing all documents required by the court.
- Closing the probate when everything is done.
5. Order to Probate (Form DE-140) – The Judge grants the Order for Probate. This starts the probate case timeline.
6. Letters (DE-150) – The Letters (Letters of Testamentary) serve basically as a “driver’s license” for the administrator of the estate, and are a proof of the authority granted to the personal representative. A Certified copy of Letters is typically presented to a bank or other agency to prove and verify the administrator’s authority.
A People’s Choice can help you in preparing the required forms to file a Petition for Probate. 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.
Notice to Administer the Estate
In addition to completing the Petition to Probate form mentioned above, one of the most important forms that requires completion is the Notice of Petition to Administer the Estate. This notice provides all interested parties statutory notice of the probate hearing date. The probate process in California requires publication in a legal newspaper. This newspaper must be one of general circulation in the city, county, or city or county where the decedent resided at the time of death or where the property is located. You may want to reference the statutory requirements of California Probate Code Section 19040.
The newspaper publication must occur 3 times in the legal section of the newspaper. The newspaper must be one of general circulation throughout a designated area. If publication is defective, the personal representative will have to repeat the publication process all over and possibly continue the hearing date.
Notice on a person or entity is given by sending a copy of the petition via first class mail to his/her address. Notice must be provided at least 15 days before the hearing, unless otherwise specified by local court rules. 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. Upon the successful completion of the publication and service upon a person, Proof of Publication and Proof of Service just be filed with the local court.
File Your Bond
Most California probate courts require personal representatives to file a bond. The bond is used 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. A will may waive the bond requirement, or the heirs and devisees named in the will can agree to waive this bond requirement.
Appear at Hearing on Petition to Probate
Once you have completed all necessary forms and filed with the court, including the proof of publication/service by mail, and filed a bond, if necessary, 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. We also provide all clients with a detailed manual and self-help reference tool which reviews in detail 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. This is not the case. A typical California probate proceeding usually takes between 5 to 7 months to complete. After the first probate hearing, unfortunately there are many more steps required to manage the probate process to its final completion. A People’s Choice can save you thousands of dollars as compared to using an attorney. We will make sure your probate case proceeds effortlessly through these steps so that the estate can be quickly distributed at the conclusion of the case.