When a loved one passes away, if they have not made any other arrangements, it is possible that their estate (all of their money and property at the time of death) will have to go through what is called “probate”, discussed below, before the property will be allowed to be distributed. The process is very detailed such that it is necessary to obtain a Woodland Hills probate attorney. We will guide you in every step of the process so you will be assured all requirements in the process are being met.
What is Probate?
Probate is a legal proceeding that certain individuals who inherit property from a decedent (i.e., the person that died) must go through in order to take possession of the property. It can take place in cases where the decedent died without a will (“intestate”) or with a will (“testate”). In Los Angeles, the proceeding takes place in probate court located in the Los Angeles Superior Court, Stanley Mosk Courthouse.
In the proceeding, the validity of the will is verified, all assets and debts of the decedent are inventoried, the decedent’s debts are paid and the decedent’s property is distributed according to the terms of the will to those individuals named in the will, called beneficiaries (or, where there is no will, the property is distributed to those who will inherit the property, called heirs, who are identified by state laws – please see the article entitled “Intestate Succession” in our Articles & Info section for more information on California rules regarding inheritance).
An Overview of the Probate Process
In the first part of this proceeding, a petition is filed to appoint someone whose responsibility is to carry out the instructions of the will. Where the person is named in the will, they are called an executor. In cases where a person dies intestate, or dies testate without naming an executor, an administrator is instead appointed according to state laws.
Notice of the probate proceedings must be sent to various individuals and entities. For example, notice of the probate proceeding must be given to creditors by publishing notice of the proceeding in a local newspaper. Specific notices can also be sent to known creditors. Notice is also sent to beneficiaries of the will, and those who would inherit if there were no will. Other notices are also required to be mailed to certain governmental entities in certain cases. For example, if the decedent received Medi-Cal benefits, the California Department of Health Care Services must be notified of the death of the decedent.
The next step is proving the validity of the will. Most commonly, this is accomplished by a written statement by one of the witnesses who signed the will. They can do this at the time of signing the will, in what is called a self-proving affidavit, or after probate has begun.
In the next step of inventorying decedent’s property, an evaluation of the value of the property must be made. For purposes of probate, property that has a beneficiary designation is not included in the inventory, although all property is considered when determining whether any estate taxes must be paid. For example, life insurance policies, bank accounts, motor vehicles, stocks, bonds, etc., that have designated individuals who are to receive the property upon passing of the decedent are not included in the inventory of the probate estate.
As to property that is included in the probate estate, in many cases, for common items such as furniture, furnishings, etc., an informal appraisal can be made. In cases of real property (i.e., land or a house), or expensive personal property, such as certain jewelry, etc., a formal appraisal must be done.
After all debts are paid, the estate property can then be distributed to the designated beneficiaries. In cases where the decedent died intestate, the property is distributed to heirs, identified by state statute as mentioned above.
Simplified Procedures to Transfer Property
The probate process can take a long time and can be very tedious. In certain situations, those entitled to receive property from a deceased loved one can obtain the property through less formal and more simplified procedures.
For example, if you are a spouse, you may be able to obtain all of the community and separate property of your decedent spouse without a formal probate proceeding. Moreover, if the gross value of the decedent’s real and personal property in California is not more than $166,250 (this amount will be adjusted beginning April 1, 2022, and every three years thereafter, as defined in Probate Code § 890), the person(s) entitled to the property may be able to obtain the property by preparing and submitting an affidavit to the institution/entity holding the property requiring them to release the property. Under Probate Code § 13050, certain property is excluded in determining the gross value of the estate.
However, in situations where the gross value of real property is more than $55,425 (this amount will be adjusted beginning April 1, 2022, and every three years thereafter, as defined in Probate Code § 890), even though the gross value of the real and personal property is not more than $166,250, one must obtain a court order through a summary court proceeding. No formal probate proceeding is required.
If the decedent owned real property in California whose gross value does not exceed $55,425, an affidavit can also be prepared but it must be filed with the court clerk. If everything is in order, the court clerk issues a certified copy of the affidavit, which can then be recorded with the County Recorder in the County in which the real property is located.
If you require more information regarding the details of these simplified procedures, or any aspect of the probate process, please contact our office. We serve all of Los Angeles County so if you require a probate attorney, please contact us at our main office in Woodland Hills to schedule an appointment at a location near you. Examples of areas in which we provide probate attorney services include, but are not limited to, Agoura Hills, Alhambra, Burbank, Calabasas, Canoga Park, Eagle Rock, Encino, Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, Los Angeles, Mission Hills, Monterey Park, North Hollywood, Northridge, Pasadena, Reseda , San Fernando , Santa Clarita, Sherman Oaks, Tarzana, Thousand Oaks, Valley Village, Van Nuys, Warner Center, Winnetka, and West Hills. Even if your city is not listed, please contact us for a location in Los Angeles County near you to see if we can help. Please note that we offer DISCOUNTED PROBATE ATTORNEY FEES. Please call our office for more information.