Most estates must go through probate in California. Even if the decedent didn’t leave behind a will, you may have to follow part of the probate process to allow the judicial system to distribute the estate based on intestacy law.
Lodge the will
When the decedent has left behind a will, you must lodge it with the Clerk of the Superior Court at Superior Court Courthouse in the county where your loved one died. The executor must also keep a copy. If there isn’t an executor, then at least one beneficiary must have a copy of the will.
File the probate petition
You may file a probate petition once you have filed the will. Anyone could file the petition if they are a beneficiary, the executor or a relative. You must file this document in the county where your loved one was residing when they died. Even if your loved one didn’t leave behind a will, you need to file a Petition for Letters of Administration.
First probate hearing
California’s estate planning law requires two probate hearings. The first hearing usually occurs four to six weeks after you file the probate petition. You need to inform anyone who has a potential right to the estate of the scheduled date of the first probate hearing. Estate planning law stipulates that only a third party can provide official written notice. At the hearing, the judge formally names the executor, who may now begin managing the estate.
Settling debts and taxes
The executor must take inventory of the estate, pay the decedent’s taxes and settle debts. It’s illegal to distribute any assets to beneficiaries until creditors have gotten their share.
During the second hearing, the judge approves or rejects the executor’s distribution plan. If the executor is following the process correctly, the plan will pass.
Whether a decedent died with a will or not, their estate usually needs to go through probate. A judge must oversee what happens with their property to ensure that everyone follows the law.