When a loved one passes away, it is an emotional and stressful time. Unfortunately, while you are still
grieving, you do have to face the practicalities of trying to figure out how to settle your family member’s
The hope is that you know exactly where that estate planning binder is; however, if your loved one never did
any estate planning, you may be facing probate.
The Probate Process
To put it very simply, Probate is when the court supervises the processes that transfer legal title of property
from the estate of the person who has died (the "decedent") to his or her heirs. In California, you must go
through probate if your loved one did not have a living trust and owed real property or had assets totaling
$166,250.00 or more, in accounts without beneficiaries listed.
In most probates, you go through the following steps:
- Ask the court to be appointed as the administrator or executor of the estate.
- Notify creditors and gather assets.
- File an “Inventory and Appraisal” of the decedent’s assets.
- If you are selling a house or other real property, you may have to go to court to formally sell the property.
Finally, you have to finalize distributions with the court and be formally excused as the administrator.
Every time that you go to court pay a filing fee. You are also paying fees for notice in the newspaper, probate
referees (individuals who appraise estate property) and attorneys.
The other frustrating part about the probate process is the time spent waiting for court dates. It is not
uncommon for a probate to take 1-2 years before final distributions are made.
Unlike the probate process, trust administration is usually not supervised by the court and as a result, is often
much faster and much less expensive. It is important to understand, however, that it is a process and there are
certain legal requirements that must occur before distributions are made from the trust to beneficiaries.
Some steps we take to administer a trust include:
- Giving notice to beneficiaries.
- Inventorying and appraising the decedent's assets.
- Assisting with issues related to outstanding debts, creditors and taxes.
- Distributing assets according to terms of the trust.
Assuming that no one decides to fight over the trust and all debts have been accounted for, the trust
administration process can often be finished within 6 months. Additionally, unlike probate, attorneys’ fees are negotiable.
Regardless of whether you are facing a probate situation or trust administration, after acquiring death
certificates, contact an attorney to assist with the process.
All materials have been prepared for general information purposes only to permit you to learn more about our
firm, our services and the experience of our attorneys. The information presented is not legal advice, is not to be acted on as such, and may be subject to change without notice.