Understanding the California Probate process

Whether you are planning your own estate or serving as the executor of a family member’s will, knowledge of the California probate process can inform your decisions and actions. With probate, the state court supervises the process of administering a person’s estate, paying debts and distributing property.

These are the important considerations that often arise with California probate:

Exempt probate assets

Even with larger estates, some assets do not require probate. These include:

  • Real estate owned by the deceased individual along with another person
  • Financial accounts with designated beneficiaries, including bank accounts, investment accounts, life insurance policies and retirement plans
  • Property within a living trust
  • Certain real estate assets with a named beneficiary, sometimes called a beneficiary deed

Simplified probate process

Estates worth less than $166,250 can take advantage of a simplified probate process. The person’s executor or surviving spouse can complete an affidavit to request property transfer outside of probate as long as the value of the individual’s real and personal property, retirement benefits and life insurance benefits payable to the estate fall under this threshold. When calculating the estate’s value for this purpose, do not include exempt assets as detailed above, motor homes, boats, cars, unpaid salary or wages or any real estate in another state or nation. Do not subtract the individual’s debts.

Standard probate

When an estate requires probate, the executor or another representative must submit the Petition to Probate and the person’s will to the court in the county where he or she lived. Beneficiaries and creditors will receive formal notice of their involvement in the estate. The court will determine that the will is valid and give the executor or representative permission to distribute the person’s assets and repay debts.

Creditors have four months to come forward to claim repayment from the estate. The executor must also pay outstanding taxes. In most cases, probate is complete within six months to a year.

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