Huntington Beach Probate Attorney
It’s never easy to lose a loved one. The last thing that you need when you are wrestling with grief and change is to navigate California’s complicated legal system on your own. If your loved one’s estate needs to go through probate, you are in for a potentially long period of frustration and expense. Reaching out to an attorney can simplify this time for you and your family. Our team of hardworking Huntington Beach, California probate lawyers at The Flanigan Law Group know what an emotionally tumultuous period this is and can reduce your stress by handling your case.
What Is Probate?
If your loved one’s estate includes assets worth $150,000 or more, it needs to go through the probate process in the state of California. You can expect this legal affair to involve the following:
- Validating the Deceased Individual’s Will: A last will and testament is a legal document in which someone outlines what they want to happen to their assets when they pass on. For example, they might decide to distribute certain assets to their children and others to their nephews. During probate, the court must confirm that the person’s will adheres to California regulations for a valid will. The testator must have signed and dated the will and written it at the age of 18 years or older in sound mind, meaning that they had the legal capacity to understand what they were doing. Two witnesses who do not benefit from the document must have also signed it.
- Confirming the Person’s Beneficiaries: In the context of probate, beneficiaries are individual people or entities who will receive assets from a deceased person’s estate. For instance, if you are inheriting your father’s house, you are a beneficiary. During probate, the court will need to identify who the beneficiaries are if there is a will or according to laws of intestacy if there is not a will.
- Calculating How Much the Estate Is Worth: Every person’s estate is unique and can be made up of a mix of assets, from real estate to investments to bank accounts. One of the most critical parts of probate is tallying up the total worth of the estate. That way, the court understands what needs to be distributed and what the tax implications are.
- Distributing the Person’s Assets: Transferring the assets in an estate to the beneficiaries is one of the defining aspects of probate. It also requires a great deal of care and attention, as it takes a while to track down the right people or, if there is no will, identify beneficiaries. Disputes and conflicts among heirs can also slow this process down.
- Addressing Any Outstanding Debts or Other Financial Responsibilities: Managing your finances is a tricky part of life, and it is common for people to leave behind debt that needs to be settled. In this case, the court will need to alert creditors and give them 60 days to file a claim. Outstanding debt can thus significantly lengthen the process of probate.
- Liquidating Assets If It Is Necessary: In some cases, be it to pay debt, taxes, or other financial obligations, the court might find it necessary to liquidate the deceased person’s assets. For example, they might liquidate personal property or investments into cash to cover outstanding financial responsibilities.
While you might find these steps straightforward at first glance, if there is an issue with the estate that requires probate litigation, it can quickly become quite complex. Contacting a lawyer is the most effective move you can make to help you handle probate because it takes a legal professional to ensure that it is executed properly, efficiently, and with minimal conflict.
California also has strict, detailed rules and regulations. If you consult a legal professional, they can make sure that you understand all of them. For example, it is important to note that not all assets need to go through probate, even if their value exceeds $150,000. For instance, assets are not subject to probate if they are among the following:
- Assets that are in a living trust
- Assets that are listed as payable on death
- Assets with a beneficiary who is already named, like life insurance
Assets that are subject to probate include the following:
- Personal property assets (bank accounts in the decedent’s name, investment portfolios that they alone owned, etc.)
- If the decedent was married, half of the assets that they owned as community property
- Possessions that the deceased person owned but were not registered in their name (jewelry, furniture, antiques, art pieces, valuable instruments)
How Does The Probate Process Work in California?
Probate begins with the filing of a petition to probate court. The court will respond to the petition and appoint a person, called an executor, to oversee the transfer of assets. The executor is often a close friend or relative of the person who died, especially if the deceased person identified who they wanted to be the executor before they passed. In other cases, the executor can be a probate attorney, a professional executor like a bank employee, or even more than one person, called co-executors.
If the person who passed on worked with an estate planning attorney when they were still alive, the probate process will likely be quicker and easier on their loved ones than if they had not. The right estate planning attorney can help you arrange the future of your assets before you pass and ensure that you craft a legally sound last will and testament that will hold up in probate court. This can save your family a great deal of stress and confusion after you’re gone. If the will is clearly valid, the executor will follow the estate plan for the distribution of assets.
If the deceased person did not do any estate planning before they passed, the court will have to decide what happens to all their assets. This can be an extensive, overwhelming time for the family and may lead to tension and conflict among potential beneficiaries.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Probate in California?
You might think that you have the ability to dive into probate on your own, but it takes advanced legal knowledge and experience with California courts to effectively streamline the process. Your probate attorney can make this situation a whole lot easier for you by dealing with steps and issues such as:
- Provide Strategic Legal Advice: Your lawyer can patiently listen to and address all your questions about this long legal process and give you advice based on your own unique circumstances. They can also make informed suggestions for how to make legal decisions that are in your interests.
- Drafting Key Documents: The California legal system loves paperwork, and you’ll have a lot of it to keep straight when heading into probate. Your lawyer knows how to sail through the ocean of documents and can address key actions, like filing a petition for probate and petitioning for special administration for specific actions from the court.
- Collecting, Assessing, and Distributing Assets: It’s your lawyer’s job to provide representation during probate, so they work to make sure that they carefully consider all the assets in the estate and understand the value of each one. They can also facilitate the distribution of assets and help with contacting beneficiaries to ensure that everything goes where it is supposed to.
- Settling Debt: You might not know how much debt your loved one had before they passed or if they still have outstanding financial obligations. If they have a substantial amount of debt to deal with, addressing it is a tedious, multi-step process. Your probate lawyer can look into all of this and make sure that it is settled.
- Selling Property: If the deceased person had any property that needs to be sold, it can be a bureaucratic hassle to handle. Your lawyer can take care of that for you and make sure that all real estate issues are completely settled.
- Resolving Disputes: Having a will does not always ensure that a probate goes smoothly, Often, when people write their own wills without the informed guidance of a legal professional, or when potential beneficiaries are vying for certain assets, the validity of a will can be called into question during probate. This can draw out the probate period for a long time, but your probate attorney can work to minimize disruptions and help resolve any uncertainty. Similarly, if conflicts arise because the person who passed away did not have a will, your lawyer can help keep things going smoothly.
- Minimizing Taxes: Doing taxes is never fun, and the tax implications of an estate going through probate can be particularly confusing. Your attorney can show you how to handle estate taxes, and they can draw on their in-depth knowledge of relevant tax laws as they try to minimize tax liabilities. They can fight for the beneficiaries to get as much out of the estate as possible.
What Are the Different Types of Probate in California?
You might have heard about the several types of probate, and it is useful to know the differences between each one so you understand what you are in for with your own situation.
- Formal Probate: Stretching at least 9 to 12 months, formal probate is your standard and most common type of probate. It involves all the above steps, like confirming that the person’s will is valid and distributing assets.
- Summary Probate: If the assets that make up the estate are valued at less than $184,500, the estate might be eligible for this expedited, less costly form of probate. This is also the case if the property is going to pass to a spouse or if the decedent was in the process of transferring assets to a trust before they passed.
- Ancillary Probate: If the person who passed away was not a resident of California but owned property in the state, then ancillary probate is necessary to determine who gets the property.
How Much Does a Probate Attorney Cost in California?
The amount that you have to pay in probate fees will depend on the value of the estate in question. In the state of California, you can expect the following fees for formal probate:
- 4% of the first $100,000
- 3% of the next $100,000
- 2% of the next $800,000
- 1% of the next $15,000,000
Any additional legal or appraisal fees that you have to pay will largely be determined by the estate and the nature of the probate process. When you consult with a lawyer, they can help you understand what expenses to expect based on your situation.
Who Pays Probate Attorney Fees in California?
In California, the payment for your probate attorney’s fees will typically come out of the estate’s assets. However, if the estate does not cover all the legal fees, the executor might be responsible for paying them, beneficiaries might contribute, or court approval can be requested for using other estate funds for payments. If you have concerns about paying attorney fees, you can ask your lawyer for guidance when you reach out to them.
Contact a Probate Attorney Who Understands Your Needs
At The Flanigan Law Group, we know how confusing it can be to handle probate, especially when working through intense loss. Let us ease your stress and handle the legal stuff for you. We have years of experience helping Huntington Beach residents with estate planning, estate litigation, and probate, and we are deeply familiar with the California court system. Our team is ready to listen to your needs.
When you put your trust in our skilled team, you can rest assured that we can work to address probate as efficiently as possible. We aim to keep the process short and easy for you. If complications or disputes arise, we have the knowledge and resources to handle them swiftly.
If you are ready to simplify probate by putting your trust in an experienced attorney, contact us today. We are waiting to answer your questions, give you informed legal advice, and represent you in this tough time.