When it comes to court procedures, probate is probably one of the worst ones. Filing paperwork and thinking about assets and debts is the last thing anybody wants to do after losing a loved one. However, probate is really important so that things go smoothly later on.

California probate is a fairly easy process. Using some legal shortcuts, you can even avoid probate altogether. But, on the flip side, it isn’t cheap at all. The extremely high probate attorney fees in California beats many states.

Fortunately, if there are no fights or angry relatives who were not included in the will, you can get through probate without the help of an attorney. Probate basically involves intense paperwork and form filling. You can easily do this by yourself or with the help of platforms like A People’s Choice that charge a fraction of the average attorney fees.

Keep reading to know which are the necessary forms and where you can find them. We also have information about the assets that require probate and the consequences of not filing for probate.

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What is Probate Court?

The court that supervises the probate proceeding is called probate court. The main task of the probate court is to ensure that a deceased person’s debts are paid and the estate is distributed among any beneficiaries.

If the departed left a will behind, then the named executor of the will files for probate. The court first authenticates the will and then officially appoints the executor named in the will. This gives the executor power to take legal action on behalf of the deceased in accordance with the California probate code.

The executor then has to pay off all debts and dues against the decedent’s estate and address any legal claims. It is also the executor’s duty to file for the final income tax returns on the decedent’s behalf. After all claims are resolved either in court or outside, the executor takes an inventory of the assets and distributes what remains among the beneficiaries as directed by the will.

Now, as you may know, not everyone leaves a will behind. Such cases are treated like cases where the will is declared invalid. The court appoints an administrator, who has the same duties as an executor. The administrator addresses legal claims against the estate and clears all debts, pending bills, insurance, tax returns, etc. The administrator is then tasked with finding the legal heirs of the estate.

In the state of California, if the decedent has neither a will nor any heirs, the estate escheats to the state after payment of debts and dues. According to the California courts website, the whole probate process takes about 9 months to a year and a half. Sometimes it can take longer depending on the complexity of the case.

How Do I Get Probate Forms?

California probate court forms are easy to find. The website of the local county courthouse where the deceased lived offers all these forms for free. You may also look up your local courthouse self-help center for help finding the correct forms. Another option is to use a legal document assistance service like A People’s Choice.

We’ve listed out and provided links to a few main forms required for probate in California. However, there are many additional forms, declarations, and attachments that you must provide. This includes the death certificate.

One thing to remember is that all of these probate forms are completely free of charge. So if you’re being charged for any of the forms, then you’re probably looking in the wrong place.

California Probate Court Forms

Probate Court Forms for Smaller Estates

In California, there are some simplified probate procedures for smaller estates. You can use these procedures to avoid the hassle of going through formal court probate. However, to be eligible for this procedure, either the value of the assets (without real estate) must be less than $166,250, or the deceased should have left behind real estate under $55,425.

There is a waiting period of 40 days in the former situation and one of six months in the latter. If you are considering this procedure, make sure to get the affidavit notarized and submit it with a death certificate to the institution or person in possession of the asset/s. They are legally required to release the asset/s to you. If there is real estate under $55,425, you are required the fill the following forms and file them with the court:

  1. DE-305 (Affidavit)
  2. DE-160 (Inventory and Appraisal)
  3. DE-161 (Inventory and Appraisal attachment)

Small Estates with Real Estate Under $166,250

If the decedent has real estate worth more than $55,425 but less than $166,250, then it needs to be transferred by a court order and requires a hearing. All beneficiaries can initiate this process jointly. To use this California probate procedure, executors must fill the following forms:

  1. DE-310 (Petition to Determine Succession to Real Property)
  2. DE-160 (Inventory and Appraisal)
  3. DE-161 (Inventory and Appraisal attachment)
  4. DE-120 (Notice of Hearing)
  5. DE-315 (Order Determining Succession to Real Property)

Probate Court Forms for Spousal Property Petition

A surviving spouse or registered domestic partner of the decedent can submit a Spousal (or Domestic Partner) Property Petition to the probate clerk for approval. Although this process involves the court, it is much faster than regular probate and has no bounds on the value of the property that can be transferred. To initiate this process, the surviving spouse or registered domestic partner needs to file the following documents with the court:

  1. DE-221 (Spousal or Domestic Partner Property Petition)
  2. DE-226 (Spousal or Domestic Partner Property Order)
  3. DE-120 (Notice of Hearing)

Probate Court Forms for Larger Estates 

If the decedent owned estates worth more than $166,250, full probate needs to be initiated. For this, there are a bunch of forms that need to be filed. After the court enters the order for probate, you have to file more forms to get it over with. These forms can be found for free on the California Court’s website.

What Assets Are Subject to Probate? 

In the state of California, usually only property in the decedent’s name alone is subject to probate. This property must have been acquired before a marriage or inherited during the marriage. They can be tangible assets like a house or a car, or intangible assets like shares in a business or money in a savings account.

Half of the deceased’s community property (i.e. property acquired during marriage) and the deceased’s share of joint assets are also subject to probate. The other half belongs to the deceased’s spouse. Lastly, personal assets like jewelry and furniture, that were owned by the decedent but not registered in their name, are also subject to the probate process.

On the other hand, assets held in joint tenancy with other people, living trusts, life insurance and IRA benefits, and trustee assets are not subject to probate. Assets that are registered in the deceased’s name as “payable on death” or “transfer on death” are also not subject to probate.

As mentioned before, surviving spouses can file a Spousal Property Petition. In such a case, the assets that are going to the surviving spouse or registered domestic partner are not subject to probate. This also includes assets that were registered by the couple as “community property with right of survivorship.”

What Happens If You Don’t File a Probate?

Contrary to popular belief, as an executor or personal representative, you are not required to file for probate by law. So, the courts will not take any legal action against you for not filing a petition to probate. However, it may be best for you to file for probate. If you don’t, then any assets in the decedent’s name cannot be legally transferred to their beneficiaries.

The beneficiaries or heirs will most likely have legal claims against you for not letting them get the property that was left to them. Also, creditors may still continue to charge payments on the estate since their debts are not paid. Consequently,  if you knew you were supposed to file for probate and didn’t, then you can be held responsible for charges incurred on the assets that were meant for beneficiaries and heirs.

Get Help With Your California Probate Case 

The county probate court where the deceased lived can provide you with the petition for probate forms you need to fill out for free. However, probate also includes certain necessary documents like affidavits that must be prepared and approved by the court. Depending on your case, there may also be additional documents you need to file that don’t conform to the regular probate format.

It is wise to consult an attorney to help you with these documents. But considering the expensive attorney fees, you may want to try more affordable alternatives. Contact A People’s Choice for help with your petition for probate filing. Our team of legal assistants is professionally trained and experienced in probate matters. Contact us for more information!

Worried about how long it takes to go through probate in California? Start your probate paperwork today to save time and money!

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