The first step of any probate process is to determine whether a probate proceeding is required. Our Los Angeles probate attorneys can work with you to decide whether or not you will need to go through probate, based on the size of your deceased loved one’s estate and the specifics of any estate planning documents your loved one may have put in place.
If your loved one did not leave a will (in other words, if they died “intestate”), court-supervised probate administration would generally be required if the total value of financial and real property assets in the estate exceeds the threshold amount established by state law. Even if your loved one left a will, if that will was not properly executed, some form of probate process could be necessary to prove its validity or to appoint an executor who will carry out the instructions in the will.
Once you have determined that probate is necessary, the probate process generally involves the following steps:
- You will need to prepare and file certain documents with the court to initiate the probate proceeding, as well as pay any necessary court filing fees.
- The Probate Court will then set a date for a court hearing. At the hearing, the judge will appoint a personal representative, or “administrator,” who will have primary responsibility for carrying out the court’s orders. In California, the administrator may be anyone over the age of 18 capable of fulfilling the duties of the role. The administrator is typically a surviving family member of the deceased person.
- The administrator will be responsible for preparing an inventory of all assets in the deceased person’s estate and identifying potential creditors that may have claims on those assets. The deceased person’s creditors will need to be notified of the probate process, and the administrator may need to pay bills or other debts out of the estate before any assets can be distributed to inheritors. In addition, the administrator is responsible for:
- protecting the assets in the estate;
- paying taxes on behalf of the estate; and
- selling estate property, if necessary to pay debts or taxes, which may require court approval. Under California law, the administrator is entitled to compensation for performing these duties, and that payment is also made from the estate.
- After all bills and other debts have been paid, the court will approve the final accounting of the estate and the distribution of any remaining estate assets. The administrator may then request that the court close the estate, completing the probate process.