Regardless of whether a California resident has a will, their estate goes through probate after their death. However, the process is faster and more organized with a will. This is how probate works.
Filing the petition
After a person’s death, the first step in probate involves filing a petition with the Superior Court in the country where they lived at the time of their passing. The decedent’s personal representative or executor is responsible for filing the petition with the court. The court will then schedule a hearing within around 30 days.
A notice of hearing is published at least three times in the local newspaper and beneficiaries named in the will are sent copies as well. The decedent’s heirs are also given notice of the petition, as are any creditors to whom the person still owed debts.
Proving the will
If the decedent had a will, it must be proven to ensure its validity. If there is any unclear language or questionability, the person’s beneficiaries can speak out and contest it. For example, if there’s any evidence of undue influence – a third party caused the decedent to issue anything in the will that appears unreasonable or questionable – it might invalidate the will.
The executor performs an inventory of all assets from the estate that must go through probate. Anything held in a trust is exempt. Assets to be transferred to a beneficiary such as retirement accounts, life insurance policies or bank accounts automatically change hands.
Paying debts and taxes
The executor is responsible for paying outstanding debts to the decedent’s creditors. Estate taxes must also be paid off. Probate can only conclude afterward, during which time the beneficiaries can finally receive their inheritance.
Probate is necessary for all estates. However, with a very small estate or trusts holding property, it’s possible to bypass it.