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By: Scott Grossman on January 8th, 2024

What is Probate?

While understanding probate can seem daunting, we aim to break it down into simpler terms. The Grossman Law Firm is here to provide you with a clear understanding of its purpose and procedures.

Probate is a legal process that typically occurs after someone passes away. It involves validating the deceased person’s will if one exists. They then distribute their assets according to their wishes or the law. This process ensures that the deceased person’s debts are settled. And all remaining assets are appropriately allocated.

The process can vary depending on various factors, such as the state in which the deceased person resided, the complexity of their estate, and whether they left a valid will. Let’s take a closer look at these steps:

Gathering and Inventorying Assets

The first step in a formal litigation process is to gather and inventory the deceased individual’s assets. That may include properties, bank accounts, investments, and personal belongings, among other assets. Creating a comprehensive list of these assets and their estimated values is essential.

Evidently, during this stage, it is also essential to identify any outstanding debts or liabilities that must be addressed. These could include mortgages, loans, tax obligations, or unpaid bills. Gathering this information early on ensures that all financial obligations are settled adequately as part of the process.

Validating the Will

If the deceased person left behind a valid will, it must be submitted to the probate court for validation. The court will review the document to ensure that it meets all legal requirements and was created by the deceased person of sound mind and free will. This step is crucial as it establishes the will as a legally binding document.

If the will is deemed valid, the court will appoint an executor responsible for overseeing the process. The executor is typically named in the will and is designated to carry out the deceased person’s wishes as outlined in the document.

Notifying Creditors and Settling Debts

Once the assets have been inventoried and the will has been validated, the next step is to notify creditors and settle any outstanding debts. That involves publishing a notice to creditors. That allows them to make claims against the estate if they believe the deceased person owes them money.

During this period, creditors have a specific timeframe within which they must file their claims. Additionally, the executor is responsible for reviewing these claims and determining their validity. If a claim is approved, it will be paid using the estate’s assets. If a claim is disputed, the executor may need to work with legal counsel to resolve the matter.

Asset Distribution

For example, once all debts and liabilities have been settled, the remaining assets can be distributed to the beneficiaries named in the will. The executor is responsible for overseeing this process and ensuring that the assets are distributed according to the deceased person’s wishes as clearly outlined in the will.

The distribution process may be more complex if the deceased person did not leave a valid will or if assets are not included in the will. In these situations, state laws will dictate how the assets are distributed, typically prioritizing immediate family members.

Probate vs. non-probate assets

Understanding the distinction between probate and non-probate assets is essential when considering the process.

The deceased person solely owns probate assets and does not have a designated beneficiary or co-owner. These assets typically go through a process requiring formal validation and distribution.

Henceforth, non-probate assets, on the other hand, bypass the process altogether. These assets are typically designated to specific beneficiaries or co-owners. They are transferred directly to them upon the death of the owner. Common examples of non-probate assets include life insurance policies, retirement accounts with named beneficiaries, and jointly owned property with rights of survivorship.

Even if an asset is considered a non-probate asset, it may still be subject to estate taxes or other financial obligations. Consulting with an estate planning attorney or financial advisor can help you determine how to manage these assets, ensuring a smooth transfer of wealth.

Further, the formal litigation process is critical in ensuring that a deceased individual’s assets are appropriately distributed and debts settled. While the process may seem complex, it can be navigated successfully with the proper guidance and understanding. By familiarizing yourself with the critical steps involved in the process and the distinction between probate and non-probate assets, you can be better prepared to handle any probate proceedings.

When is probate necessary?

In California, probate is necessary for estates worth more than $166,250. Further, any assets not qualifying for a simple transfer process will likely have to go through a formal litigation process if the deceased person’s property is worth more than this amount. The process can be complex and time-consuming, typically lasting nine months to two years. Assets subject to a formal litigation process in California include real estate, personal property, and other assets. However, assets in a living trust or those subject to a beneficiary designation are not part of the probate process.

California law provides that probate is unnecessary if the total value of the assets subject to probate at the time of death does not exceed $166,250.

Next Steps in the Probate Process

It is vital to hire a probate attorney in California. Their expertise, guidance, and knowledge of California probate laws are invaluable throughout the probate process. In this case, whether you are an executor or a beneficiary, TGLF can assist you in fulfilling the legal requirements, maximizing the estate’s value, and minimizing potential conflicts or delays.

By seeking the assistance of a probate attorney, you can navigate the process with confidence and peace of mind. If you need more guidance in the probate process, check out our Overview of the California Probate process.

If your case is in California and you’d like an honest opinion, fill out our Get Help Now form. Or contact our office today to schedule your free 30-minute phone consultation by calling us at (888) 443-6590.