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What You Need to Know About California Probate from Beginning to End

Probate administration begins with filing a petition for a court hearing to appoint a personal representative of the decedent and ends with a petition for a court hearing for final distribution. This post explains what you need to know about California probate from beginning to end.

To begin probate, the court appoints a person to “act on behalf of the decedent.” If the proposed appointee is nominated in the will, the petition is for appointing an “executor.” If the proposed appointee is not named in the will, the petition is for appointing an “administrator with will annexed.” If there is no will, the petition is for appointing an “administrator.”

Independent Administration of Estates Act

If the decedent owned real property, the petition should request authorization to administer under the “Independent Administration of Estates Act.” This authority allows for selling real property in probate without a court auction. Make sure this authority is requested. It increases the house’s marketability, saves time, and avoids court appearances.

First Hearing

If no one objects at the hearing, a personal representative is appointed. The judge signs “Letters” and provides them to the personal representative. These “Letters” authorize the personal representative to gather the decedent’s assets and pay the decedent’s just debts.

Prior to issuing “Letters,” the court may require the personal representative to post a bond for his or her performance. A bond is not cheap and is, in effect, a credit application. A personal representative with a poor credit record may not be able to obtain a bond and may not be appointed. If the Will waives the bond or if all beneficiaries waive the bond, the courts will generally honor the waiver.

After the “Letters” are issued, the personal representative has four months to identify all assets and have those assets appraised. If all creditors have been paid, the personal representative can file a second petition at the end of four months.

If a court auction is needed to sell real property, the personal representative files a request for an auction date with the court. The probate court must have a hearing within 45 days of the date the petition is filed. Fifteen days before the hearing, all heirs of the decedent and all beneficiaries of the Will must be provided with written notice of the hearing and a copy of the petition. Notice of the court hearing must also be published in an adjudicated local newspaper three times over 15 days before the hearing.

Final Court Hearing

To close the case, another petition must be filed. This petition must provide an accounting of all transactions in the estate, a proposal for distribution of the estate’s assets, authority to pay the personal representative’s fees, and authority to pay the attorney fees. Upon receipt of this petition, the court will set a date for a hearing. If no one objects at the hearing, the court approves the petition.

“Probate” is the transfer of California real property from a person who has died to that person’s heirs under the supervision and protection of the Superior Court of California. Probate begins with filing a Petition to appoint a decedent’s personal representative and ends with a second petition to distribute all estate assets. The process takes one to two years.

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