Probate is a court process to transfer assets after someone passes away. A probate may be needed if someone owned more than $166,000 of assets at death, and those assets are not held in a Trust, controlled by a beneficiary designation, or jointly owned with another person.

A probate generally operates in four phases – commencement, gathering assets, paying creditors, and finally distributions. In each of these phases, the court appointed representative, called an executor or administrator, must take specific actions. Most of the representative’s actions will be reviewed and approved by the court.

How it starts

A probate begins with a meeting with your attorney. The attorney will go over the steps to open a probate and provide an overview of key issues in your case.

Your attorney will prepare probate documents, which are then filed with the court. At a court hearing the judge may appoint a representative for the estate and issue ‘letters’, the official document empowering the representative to act in the probate. The letters allow the representative to talk to banks, manage property, and act for the estate.

Things you may need for your first meeting

Even if you don’t have all these items, you should still attend the meeting. Your attorney can help you understand what is needed and how to get started.

  • The decedent’s Will, if there is one, and any codicils (amendments)
  • Any bills from creditors. These can include mortgages, credit cards, medical bills, and others.

  • Copies of property tax statements and deeds.
  • Death certificates. We recommend getting 8-10.
  • Any issues you feel are urgent.

Is Probate that bad?

In California many people can and should try to avoid probate. The process can be a burden to family and friends after your death.

  • Probates are public. With the exception of very sensitive information, documents filed in court can be viewed by the public. This information will include the value of estate assets, the identity and inheritance of each beneficiary, and family complications.
  • Probates can be rigid. The executor must satisfy strict rules set by the court. These rules can vary by county, and even from judge to judge. These rules dictate how to sell a house, when distributions can be made, whether creditors are paid, how to pay taxes, and many others. Some restrictions in a probate are not present in a Trust.
  • Probates can be long. The process can take as little as a year, but often longer. Some complex probates have taken decades to complete.
  • Probates can be expensive. Courts, appraisers, executors, attorneys, CPAs, and realtors can all charge fees in a probate. The costs can be very high.

Of course, there are exceptions to each of these rules. Please contact Keyes Law Group, PC for more information.