Irvine Probate Lawyer
If you have lost a loved one and been named as the executor of an estate in California, you probably have several questions about handling the probate process. The California probate process is complicated, extensive, and requires an experienced probate lawyer to ensure this process moves as smoothly as possible to provide the best possible results. Consider the information below to learn more about probate, then contact the Irvine probate attorneys from Flanigan Law to get started on your case today.
What Does A Probate Attorney Do?
To appreciate why hiring the services of an Irvine probate attorney is so important, you need to understand what probate is and how it works in California. Probate is defined as the court process for distributing a deceased person’s assets, settling debts owed, and resolving any financial affairs that remain after the person’s death. The probate process allows the court to ensure that all bills and liabilities of the estate are paid and that the administration of the estate is carried out properly.
Probate courts deal with several issues, including:
- Determining the existence and validity of a will
- Establishing the decedent’s beneficiaries or heirs
- Calculating how much the estate is worth
- Managing the financial responsibilities of the decedent
- Transferring assets to beneficiaries
The following assets are considered to be part of the probate estate: the decedent’s property, regarded as assets held in their name alone, acquired before or outside of marriage or inherited with marriage; half of the decedent’s community property, which is defined as property that was acquired during a marriage; and the decedent’s share of an asset that is jointly owned with others.
If the decedent’s assets’ total value does not exceed $150,000 as of the date of death, probate of the estate is not necessary. In addition, not all assets are subject to the California probate process, such as:
- Assets held in a living trust, also called a revocable trust.
- Assets that were legally transferred from the decedent’s estate before death.
- Assets like life insurance or retirement benefits, where a beneficiary is stipulated.
- Assets held by the decedent as the “trustee” for another person, assets that are transferred to the surviving spouse.
- Accounts listed as “Payable on Death” or “Transfer on Death.”
In rare circumstances, it may be possible to undergo this process without help from an attorney, but this course of action is not recommended. According to California law, you must complete all steps of the process, and the only way to ensure full compliance as an executor is by retaining the services of a probate attorney. This process is complex, lengthy, and can become a bureaucratic nightmare. An experienced Irvine probate attorney can help you understand probate and guide you through every step of the process.
At The Flanigan Law Group in Irvine, we provide comprehensive representation and fulfillment of fiduciary duties in probate and estate administration. Our team of Irvine probate attorneys will handle all aspects of the estate or assist the individual with fiduciary duty, including:
- Contacting beneficiaries
- Gathering the assets of the estate and accurately valuing each
- Selling any property that must be sold
- Facilitating distribution of assets
- Paying any debt or obligations
- Dealing with any claims against the estate
- Overseeing transfer of title on any real property left to beneficiaries of the estate
- Boxing up and organizing the belongings and real property of the decedent for the family
Can An Executor Take Everything?
No, the executor or administrator of a decedent’s estate is responsible for managing the probate process but does not have the authority to keep any part of the estate beyond what is necessary to cover the executor fee. The executor holds the role of fiduciary, not beneficiary, meaning their duty is to handle the probate process in a manner that focuses on the best interest of the estate and the beneficiaries. Because serving as an executor involves a certain amount of time and effort, this person reserves the legal right to compensation for their work in settling an estate, an amount dictated by the California probate code. As such, the executor is only entitled to receive an executor fee, not a portion of the estate, and is unable to alter the stipulations of the will.
If an executor cannot locate a beneficiary, they must convince the courts that this beneficiary be considered deceased. This involves providing documented evidence that they have pursued contact at the last known mailing address associated with the beneficiary and reached out to all living family members or spouses, previous employers, and other individuals that may have information on the beneficiary’s location. If the beneficiary cannot be located after a certain amount of time, their assets are fairly distributed to other beneficiaries. This does not impact the fee received by the executor.
At any point during the probate process, if a beneficiary believes that the decedent’s intent is not being appropriated and fulfilled by the executor, they may contest the will and initiate litigation procedures with an Irvine probate attorney.
How Long After Death Is Probate?
This probate process typically begins immediately after the death of the decedent and lasts between 18 months to two years based on the scope and intricacies of the estate. Sometimes it will take longer due to a number of factors, including the debt and tax burden associated with the estate. The amount of debt involved causes the biggest impact on the length of the probate process because creditors require time to learn about the process and make their claims. California law requires four months for creditors to come forward. The estate’s tax burden can also prolong this process, especially when handling estate taxes or real estate in several states, which necessitate separate probate processes that can delay asset distribution.
What Are the Stages of Probate?
Step One. File a Petition and Gather Material
The first step in beginning the probate process is to file a formal written petition with the court, along with the appropriate filing fee. The court will then assign someone to handle the settling of the decedent’s estate. If the will specifies an executor or personal representative, the court must approve this person before the estate can be managed, preserved, and distributed. If the will does not specify an executor, any interested party must consult with an Irvine probate attorney to discuss their options, and the court must approve this person.
Step Two. Publish a Notice to Creditors
Next, the probate court will order that all of the decedent’s creditors be notified to develop and present their claims to the court requesting payment. This process requires carefully gathering all the liabilities, then notifying the creditors by mail or through a newspaper notice. California law requires that probate proceedings are left open for four months to provide creditors with the chance to present their claims.
Step Three. Create an Inventory and Schedule Appraisal
During the probate process, all assets included in the decedent’s estate are effectively frozen, meaning they cannot be distributed or sold without the court’s written permission. This ensures that an accurate inventory is created, and qualified professionals make proper appraisals of all assets. Formal written appraisals are often required for certain items, such as real estate properties, automobiles, collectibles, antiques, or other valuable items. Similar to other expenses in probate, the cost of the appraisal fees is covered by the estate.
Step Four. Payment of Claims, Debts, and Taxes
After inventory and appraisals are complete, all the decedent’s debts and claims must be submitted to the probate court for approval to settle them using assets from the estate. If federal estate taxes are owed, probate must remain open until they are paid. Throughout this process, family members who disagree with the will’s provisions can bring a claim to the probate court, called a will contest. Will contests significantly delay the estate’s distribution and place enormous stress on the executor attempting to settle the estate.
Step Five. Final Distribution of Assets and Closure of the Estate
When the probate court verifies that the executor has met all legal requirements, it will order that the estate pays all debts, claims, taxes, Irvine probate attorney fees, and any other related expenses. If the estate does not include enough to cover these costs, the judge can order the sale of assets at a public auction or an estate sale. After all the bills have been settled, the probate court will distribute the estate’s remaining assets to the beneficiaries specified in the will. Then the estate is officially closed. This process typically lasts around a year and a half to two years, or even longer, depending on the estate’s size and complexity.
Contact The Flanigan Law Group Today
If you are struggling with handling probate, Kathryn A. Flanigan and her team of experienced Irvine probate attorneys will diligently work with you to help you successfully navigate this complex process. With over 30 years of experience helping residents of Irvine, California, navigate this complicated process, our team has the knowledge, skills, and resources to provide you with the highest quality of representation while managing the administration of an estate.
We are committed to ensuring that probate is administered as efficiently and seamlessly as possible on your behalf. By skillfully minimizing the duration of probate, we help to avoid unnecessary legal costs. Our lawyers will take the time to sit down with you and help you understand all duties that must be fulfilled, any potential complications, legal options, and how we can assist in each step of the process.
To arrange a consultation to discuss the estate that must be probated and how we can represent your interests in this difficult time, please contact us today. You can reach our law office by calling (949) 450-0041 or visiting our website to submit a form describing your unique situation. When you hire the expert Irvine probate attorneys from The Flanigan Law Group, you can rest assured that you will receive superior representation during this difficult time.