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Understanding what happens in probate court

When Californians die, many will have large portions of their estates go through the probate process in order for their assets to be distributed and their debts to be repaid. The probate process may be fairly complex, but it involves some specific steps that will happen before the estates will be closed.

When a person dies with a will, the document itself will be filed with the probate court in order for it to be validated. A named executor may file the will and notify all of the interested parties to it. Any of the parties may challenge the validity of the will or some of its provisions. If the will is deemed valid by the court, then the executor will then proceed. He or she will have to notify all of the person's creditors so that they can file claims against the estate. The executor will also inventory all of the assets that are held by the estate. Once the debts and fees have been paid, the executor will then distribute the assets according to the will.

If a person dies without a will, his or her estate may also go through probate court. The court may appoint an administrator to oversee the estate. The administrator's job will be similar to that of an executor, but the assets will be distributed according to the state's intestacy laws.

In some cases, disgruntled heirs might institute will challenges based on the validity of the document, such as that the testator was unduly influenced by another beneficiary when it was being prepared or that the testator was not of sound mind at the time the will was signed. This can result in a will's being declared invalid by the court if the challenge is successful. Estate planning attorneys could assist in the preparation of wills that are likelier to withstand such contests so that their clients' wishes may be honored.

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