What Is Important about Los Angeles Probate Court?
In legal terms, probate refers to all of the procedural steps that are necessary to validate a will. It is the legal process of inventorying and distributing a deceased person’s assets to creditors and any heirs or beneficiaries. The court makes sure the estate is properly administered by supervising the entire process.
If a person dies without a will, then their property will be transferred following California’s intestate succession laws. If they died without any property to transfer, then probate is usually not necessary. Surviving family may decide to open a probate case if there are debts owed or if they want to set a hard deadline for creditors to file claims.
How to Start the Filing Procedures
Probate proceedings in Orange County are initiated when someone files a petition for probate in court to admit a will and administer an estate. You basically have to fill out court forms, pay a filing fee, and appear in court to:
- Prove the will is valid – This is a routine step required by every probate court.
- Appoint a legal representative – A probate judge picks a legal representative with authority to act on behalf of the deceased person. If you are a relative of the deceased, then you can ask the Los Angeles probate court to pick you for the estate administration during the probate hearing.
- Pay debts and taxes – The court provides a period in which creditors can come forward to make claims against the estate. If you are the chosen representative, then it’s your job to make sure all debts and taxes are paid.
- Distribute remaining property to beneficiaries – If there is a will, then the Los Angeles probate court distributes any remaining property after debts and taxes are paid according to the terms of the will. If there is no will, then the Los Angeles probate court follows intestate succession rules.
Does All Property Go Through Probate?
Some assets are distributed outside the probate process. These include property held in joint tenancy, life insurance benefits, pay-on-death (POD) bank accounts, living trusts, and retirement benefits (IRAs, 401(k), Keoghs, etc.). These assets will go directly to any named beneficiaries.
How Long Does Los Angeles Probate Court Take?
California law requires the personal representative of the deceased to complete probate within one year from the date of appointment. The personal representative gets 18 months if they have to file a federal estate tax. If they don’t complete it in time, the personal representative must file a status report to the Los Angeles probate court to explain what still needs to be done and how much time it will take.
Some circumstances can make the probate process longer. This can include the size and complexity of the estate, problems locating beneficiaries, or issues with the will. It is for these reasons that some probate matters can take years to resolve.
How Much Does Probate Cost?
The cost of probate largely comes down to who you choose to help you with the process. California has provisions for attorney fees, so if you choose to hire a probate attorney, then they will receive a percentage of the gross value of the probated estate in addition to whatever hourly rate they charge. The statutory provisions are as follows:
- 4% of the first $100,000
- 3% of the next $100,000
- 2% of the $800,000
- 1% of the next $9 million
- 0.5% of the next $15 million
Nervous about how much that might cost? Use our online California probate calculator to see the exact amount in statutory attorney fees you’ll have to pay based on the value of the estate. Please note that the above percentages don’t include additional expenses such as Los Angeles probate court filing fees, appraisal costs, executor’s fees, surety bond costs, and accounting fees.
Can You Avoid Los Angeles Probate Court?
There are a few ways to avoid or simplify probate in California. These include:
1. Joint Tenancy
As mentioned in the previous section, property held in joint tenancy does not have to go through probate court. It will instead pass to the surviving co-tenant. Common assets held in joint tenancy include vehicles, stocks, bonds, bank accounts, and real property (buildings or land).
The biggest advantage of joint tenancy is it avoids probate completely and ensures the surviving tenant easily gains ownership of the property. However, being joint tenants also means each tenant holds a 100% share of the asset; one tenant can decide to transfer their interest without the consent of their co-tenant. Check out our article on the pros and cons of holding property in joint tenancy to learn more.
2. Living Trust
Assets held in a living trust are exempt from the probate process. A living trust is a document that specifies a property to be held, an appointed trustee, and a beneficiary. The legal title of the trust property is held by the trustee for the beneficiary until the property owner’s death.
Setting up a living trust is not a complicated process. If you need help creating or reviewing a trust document, contact A People’s Choice for assistance. We can make sure your trust document is legally adequate to protect your estate.
3. Simplified Probate Procedures
Orange County, Los Angeles court has simplified probate procedures for transferring estates worth $166,250 or less. If you have the legal right to inherit property and the estate is worth $166,250 or less, you may NOT have to go to Los Angeles probate court! You can instead use the simplified process to transfer the property to your name.
How to Use The Simplified Process
First, determine if the deceased person’s estate is worth $166,250 or less. This includes all real estate, personal property, and insurance or retirement benefits paid to the estate. It does not include:
- Cars, boats, or mobile homes
- Real property outside California
- Property held in trust
- Debts or mortgages of the deceased
- Bank accounts owned by multiple people, including the deceased person
- Life insurance, death benefits, or other assets not subject to probate
For a complete list of everything that can’t be included in the simplified process, check out California Probate Code section 13050.
You can write an affidavit requesting the transfer of personal property if the total value of the estate is $166,250 or less and 40 days have passed since the property owner’s death. Banks and other institutions have a special form you can fill out; check with them first and ask for one.
Once you’ve completed the affidavit, have it notarized. Many institutions will ask for a notarized affidavit even though you’re not legally required to get it notarized. Get it out of the way before you try to use the affidavit to transfer the property.
Finally, you must attach:
- A certified copy of the death certificate
- Proof that the person who died owned the property
- Proof of your identity
- An Inventory and Appraisal form (form DE-160) listing all real property (i.e., land or house) owned by the deceased in California
You will also need to have any legal beneficiaries sign the affidavit to show that they agree to transfer all that the property listed on the affidavit to you.
NOTE: Make sure the case is not already in Los Angeles probate court before you start writing the affidavit. You can’t use the simplified process without written permission from the estate executor.
Get Help With Probate in Orange County, Los Angeles
Probating an estate through Orange County, Los Angeles probate court may sound complicated on paper, but it can be done without the help of a probate lawyer. The Los Angeles probate courts website even has a self-help section for probate that can guide you through each step of the process.
If you feel that you need assistance at any point, then consider hiring a legal document assistant. While we can’t give legal advice, A People’s Choice can assist you in settling a probate estate at a fraction of the cost of an attorney. Contact us today to get started!