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Probate and other Court Supervised Procedures


Multi Generation Family Sitting On Garden SeatIn the event that a person dies leaving only a will or with no estate plan whatsoever, a probate proceeding may be required.  In California, the Superior Court oversees the probate process.  Probate proceedings are meant to settle the final legal and financial matters of a decedent’s estate.  If a decedent leaves a valid will and an estate large enough to require the filing of a probate, the  court will appoint an individual to serve as the executor of the estate, the estate assets will be appraised by a government official (the “probate referee”), and after all the decedent’s debts have been satisfied and administrative expenses paid, will order that the executor distribute the decedent’s property according to the terms of the will.  If a decedent dies without a will (known as dying “intestate”), a probate court will establish who his or her heirs are and ultimately order distribution of the property (after payment of debts and expenses) according to California’s Probate Code and laws of intestacy.


Where a decedent’s will leaves all of his or her estate to a spouse, often times it is necessary or advantageous to bring what is known as a Spousal Property Petition to confirm ownership of the assets in the spouse and address the decedent’s debts at death.  Also, where the value of the estate is less than the amount required for the filing of a probate proceeding, there are other court supervised procedures, such as Petitions to Determine Succession to Real Property and affidavit procedures for real property of small value, that are required to transfer legal ownership of the decedent’s real property to his or her chosen beneficiaries.  Again, these proceedings are not required where the decedent left a living trust and where his or her assets were held in the name of their trust.

California and federal law requires much more than just gathering up, accounting for, and determining ownership of a decedent’s belongings.  The decedent’s will must be lodged with the superior court to put his or her creditors on notice of the death, notices must be given to the decedent’s chosen beneficiaries and closest blood relatives, public notice of the commencement of a probate must be given, notice must be given to the decedent’s creditors, federal and State tax returns must be filed, both for the decedent for the period of time up through the date of death and for the decedent’s estate after death, and the list goes on.  The probate process, from start to finish, barring any unforseen complications or conflicts between beneficiaries or heirs, generally takes from 6 to 12 months, and when you factor in the tax filing and potential audit considerations, the overall estate settlement process takes closer to 24 to 30 months.


While most individuals only address these issues on behalf of a loved one once or twice in their lifetime, Mr. Rank and his staff have handled countless trust administrations and probate proceedings and can guide you through the complex process with relative ease.