The death of a loved one is always a trying time, and settling their estate often adds to the anxiety individuals experience while grieving. For this reason, it is essential to understand the probate process. Probate is the means by which the money and property that make up an individual’s estate are typically distributed to the heirs upon their death.
In Irvine, California, this process includes several steps, such as proving the existence of a valid will, paying taxes and debts, identifying and taking inventory of the decedent’s property, getting the property appraised, and then distributing the assets according to the individual’s wishes.
Probate in the State of California
Before the probate process can begin, the court must appoint an individual to oversee the proceedings. If the deceased person left a valid will, it generally designates a personal representative they have selected to handle these duties. If they have not named a personal representative, the court will appoint an individual to take on the role. The person who acts as the representative must be impartial in representing all of the parties who have an interest in the decedent’s estate. Their job is essentially to take possession of the property in the estate and ensure that it is distributed appropriately.
When an estate goes through probate in Irvine, CA, there are seven steps the state requires before the process is complete:
- Getting a petition on file. The first step in handling the settlement of an estate is to file a petition with the California Superior Court to initiate the probate process. This must be done in the county where the individual lived at the time of their death. Once filed, the petition will alert the court to schedule a hearing in roughly thirty days.
- Taking care of notices. Once the representative has filed a petition with the court, a notice of hearing should be printed in a local newspaper a minimum of three times. If there was a will, it is also incumbent upon the representative to mail the notice to all the individuals named in the will. The notice must also be provided to all potential creditors and sent to all decedent’s legal heirs.
- Proving the will. When the deceased individual has left a will, it may be qualified as a “self-proving” will. Rules regarding the validity of self-proving wills and how they are created vary from one state to another. Still, in California, specific language within the will renders proving the document unnecessary. Proving the will may also be avoided if an affidavit from each person signing it makes it unnecessary to prove its validity. If no such provisions exist, the representative must prove the validity of the will.
- Collecting assets. This step is one of the main duties of the decedent’s personal representative and involves taking possession of all assets that are subject to probate in the estate. At times, the representative must transfer the title belonging to an asset into another individual’s name. Some common assets that may be subject to title transfer include the following.
- Motor vehicles, planes, boats, real estate, and other physical assets
- Bank accounts and credit union accounts
- Brokerage accounts
- Mutual funds
- Stocks and bonds
The court typically requires an inventory of property belonging to an estate. Often, items in the inventory must also be appraised.
It is important to note that certain means of planning for estate distribution are not required to go through probate, such as:
- Gifting property to individuals before death
- Pay-on-death accounts
- Joint ownership of property
- Revocable living trusts
- Paying Creditors. After the personal representative has notified all potential creditors of the individual’s death, the creditors must submit a claim if the debts are payable by the estate. The estate must pay those debts if they are determined to be valid. Such valid debts will need to be paid off before any distribution of assets may occur. In addition to outstanding bills, funeral expenses must be covered if they were not fully paid in advance. After the appointment of the personal representative, creditors must submit any such claims within four months per California law.
- Paying Estate Taxes. One of the jobs the personal representative is responsible for includes ensuring that all estate taxes are fully paid. This may include taxes imposed by the state of California, as well as federal estate taxes. The personal representative holds no personal responsibility for estate tax liability in most circumstances. However, personal liability may be imposed if the representative distributes the estate before paying these taxes and no remaining property is available to pay the estate taxes.
- Conclusion of the estate. This is the last step in settling an estate in Irvine. To complete this step, the personal representative must provide an account of all the actions they took regarding the estate settlement. Another petition must be filed with the court, reporting all actions they have taken and summarizing the estate. Any fees paid to the estate attorney or representative must also be included in this petition. If there are no objections to the conclusion and the court approves the accounting in the petition, they will issue an order concluding the estate. Upon this conclusion, the personal representative is able to pay any necessary fees and distribute the assets that remain to the decedent’s heirs.
Place Your Trust in Orange County’s Trust and Fiduciary Responsibilities Attorney
If you have been tasked with the position of personal representative for an individual who has passed away, call our firm. The duties before you may seem overwhelming, but we can help. The probate process can be difficult and intimidating, as every estate is unique and requires great attention to detail. The skilled Orange County Probate Attorneys at The Flanigan Law Group have the experience and knowledge to ease your stress and help you complete the probate process as efficiently as possible. Reach out to us today to find out how we can help.