California Probate

California probate is a simple concept, but that doesn’t stop it from stirring up a great deal of trouble in families. The heirs to the estate of the acclaimed singer Prince can attest to that. He died without a will, so his assets are going through a lengthy process laid out by intestate law in his state of Minnesota. And this intestate succession process is still tied up in California probate court, even though Prince died in 2016.

Probate refers to the legal process of administering someone’s estate when they die. The probate assets include cash, cars, real estate, brokerage accounts retirement accounts, estate funds, bank accounts, designation to bank accounts, investments, and anything else of value the deceased owned.

Determining the actual cost is not as easy as it sounds; in Prince’s case, the estimates ranged between $150 million to over $300 million. Once the value is determined (plus the administrative costs), the estate administrator is responsible for settling all debts per the stated probate procedures for the real property. The rest is distributed among the potential heirs and designated beneficiaries as outlined in the will put forward by the deceased person.

You can see how much easier probate for real property is if there is a will that can be quickly authenticated at the point of death. This saves time taken by the lengthy process and steep probate costs that tally up when there is no will or there are questions about its validity. An estate affidavit can also serve the same purpose if available.

Unfortunately, Prince was only 57 when he died. That’s not an age when most people are thinking about wills as real property owners. Assets not put under probate include life insurance policies, retirement benefits, revocable living trust (s), pay-on-death accounts, community property, retirement accounts, beneficiary designations, assets in beneficiary designation, and items under joint tenancy. In this article, we will dig deeper into understanding California probate.

Get help with your California Probate today!

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


How to Avoid California Probate

Prince was not unusual in his lack of an actual estate plan. Real property owners simply avoid this uncomfortable topic for as long as possible. Others have it on the “to-do” list but never seem to get into the estate planning process or have any form of undue influence to do so. An estate affidavit by the legal owner of the estate property can also make the probate proceedings much easier.

These are all understandable reasons, but none of this will help your family if you should die unexpectedly. They will have to face the trauma of losing you, which is enough to deal with without then finding out there is no will for your personal property. And what about the future of any children left behind? In case you left a spouse behind, their estate may be passed to them through a legal spousal confirmation proceeding. Your spouse will therefore be the sole owner for your property after putting forward a spousal petition.

Top Three Ways to Avoid California Probate

It only takes a bit of foresight to arrange things so that you can avoid probate of their property on death.

  • Draft a living trust by the deceased person before the time of death
  • Designate beneficiaries
  • Hold property jointly on different types of estates

If Prince had set up a living trust before his time of death, everyone would have known his estate beneficiaries all along. The trust would have outlined basics such as estate beneficiaries who would inherit his real estate and how his fortune would be split among them based on the deceased person’s wishes. However, it’s wise to remember that community property is not included in the probate process.

The trust would have also included a list of his personal property holdings. It is equally important to appoint a personal representative to preside over your will when you pass on. The personal representative will only need to provide a death certificate to the court before being allowed to preside over your various types of estates.

If all or some of that real property was owned jointly with someone else (joint tenancy), there is no question regarding the transfer of assets; it would be the other owner. The entire estate property will be under the care of the other owner if the property was under the rights of survivorship. The probate estate property will therefore not undergo a complex process of the estate law.

Who Decides in the Absence of a Will or Trust?

Since this happens fairly often, state laws outline various probate codes. The probate code – PROB regulates wills and other estate planning documents, as well as laws that dictate what happens to a person’s possessions after they pass away without a will.

Here are some decisions that need to be made upon death in California:

  • The actual estate must be distributed among potential heirs, intended beneficiaries, or the closest living relatives
  • Debts must be paid, even during the probate period (this also includes estate taxes)
  • Guardianship for minor or handicapped children must be outlined
  • Conservatorships for the elderly must be set up
  • The validity of the will must be determined by the probate court
  • The probate process must be outlined to the intended beneficiaries

Which one do you think is a simplified procedure: Outlining these plans yourself in a will or leaving the decision-making to an impersonal court appointee?


Costs for California Probate

Of course, all of this doesn’t touch on the cost of probate. By leaving a will, not only will the probate administration be easier, but it will also be much less expensive. A simple estate doesn’t cost much to probate or demand a formal probate process. Therefore, the probate assets will conveniently get handed to the beneficiaries in a formal probate hearing.

One of the first questions families ask when faced with probate is, “How much will it cost?” If they hire an attorney, California law sets a scale based on the value of the estate as the attorney’s fee. It looks like this:

  • 4% of the first $100,000 of the gross value of the probate estate property
  • 3% of the next $100,000
  • 2% of the next $800,000
  • 1% of the next $9 million
  • 5% of the next $15 million

Prince’s estate might have been as large as $300 million, which equals a big payday for the probate attorney. But whatever the value of the estate assets are finally determined to be, families would rather not pay an exorbitant amount in attorney fees they usually need the money in the estate to pay off debts and plan for the future. Apart from paying attorney fees, you’ll also be required to pay accounting fees and appraisal fees.

Failing to leave behind a will makes your estate assets be subjected to intestate succession. In California, there is a more cost-effective way to file a case in probate court and it doesn’t involve hiring an attorney at all. This cost-effective way also helps to avoid formal probate court proceedings.

Alternatives to High-Priced Attorneys

If you’d like to help your loved ones avoid additional confusion and hardship if the worst should happen, you’re in the right place. Thinking ahead can save extraordinary amounts of time and money spent in the probate process after the sole owner dies.

The goal of companies like A People’s Choice is to help families file in probate court and work through the probate process within the shortest period of time. This enables easy division of the probate estates. Most court cases involve a lot of paperwork; much of it is filling out forms and filing them in court based on estate law (s).

You can have an attorney do that and receive hefty bills along the way, or you can work with our legal document assistants at a fraction of the cost.

Along the way, we help you understand the probate process and provide general information about how California probate works and what it costs. This may also entail outlining how estate taxes should be paid. We answer all your questions before beginning the probate hearing.

Check out our online California probate calculator to compare what attorney fees might be with the costs of A People’s Choice. We also provide other services including special needs planning, probate litigation, petition for conservatorship, elder law, valid claims, and taxation.

California probate isn’t pleasant and it sometimes takes a long time. But most people do not have to hire an attorney. The executor of the estate may feel overwhelmed by the task, but having a registered legal document assistant prepare your probate forms can make it easier and save you and your loved ones money in the long run.

Get help with your California probate documents today!

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