The probate process can seem overwhelming and stressful when a loved one passes away. A barrage of legal jargon, a mountain of paperwork and the heavy emotional weight of loss make for a tough mix.
Knowledge of the probate basics in California can help reduce some of this stress, making the process more manageable.
Probate is the legal process that happens after someone dies. This process includes identifying the property of the deceased person, paying any outstanding debts or taxes, notifying government agencies of the death, possibly selling assets, and distributing the remaining property according to the terms of the will. If no will exists, probate laws of California guide the distribution of assets.
Typically, the process starts with the executor named in the deceased person’s will presenting the will for probate in court. If the will does not name an executor, or if no will exists, the court appoints an administrator.
Organization and proactive action are key
There is a lot to keep track of when you are in charge of a probate. It is important to keep organized files of the estate’s paperwork such as bills, account information, debts, your court papers, and more. The work itself can be a lot, but a little organization can go a long way for reducing stress.
One common aspect of an estate administration that tends to slow the process down is taxes. The executor/administrator needs to make sure that the decedent has paid all of her/his taxes that were owed prior to death. Failure to follow through on this obligation can lead to the administrator or executor being personally liable for the decedent’s tax obligations. Because tax issues naturally involve the IRS and FTB, the process can take some time. Especially when one discovers that a decedent failed to file tax returns in the last years of life (which often happens due to age and poor health). Tackling personal income tax issues early can help reduce stress when you are wanting to end the process and distribute the estate’s funds.
Reducing stress with legal help — and the lawyer is paid entirely by the estate, not you!
The complications of the California probate process can sometimes confound even experienced probate attorneys. While you are not required to hire an attorney, the truth is that the complicated probate process can be made tremendously easier with the help of legal counsel.
Obtaining legal help with a probate should not cost the administrator one cent. Some attorneys may require an initial deposit in order to cover out of pocket costs, such as court filing fees, before you have control of the estate’s cash. But even in those cases, you will be entitled to reimbursement from the estate before any money is distributed to the beneficiaries. Many people learn the hard way that they need the help of an attorney, only after trying the process on their own and experiencing many setbacks. Finding an experienced probate lawyer from the start is key to reducing the stressful probate process.
While the probate process may seem daunting and stress-inducing at first, a good understanding, organized approach, and qualified legal help can make it far more manageable.