When a person passes away, their estate must go through a legal process known as probate. This process is designed to ensure that the deceased's assets are collected, debts and expenses are paid, and the remaining assets are distributed to the beneficiaries according to the deceased's wishes. In California, the court appoints an executor or administrator to act as a personal representative and oversee the probate process. The executor's job is to keep all assets safe and secure.
This includes maintaining insurance on any real estate, protecting valuable items from theft or damage, and filing tax returns for both the deceased and the estate. The executor must also compile an inventory and appraisal of all probate assets and submit it to the court. The California Probate Code requires that final distribution orders be filed within one year or 18 months if federal tax returns are needed. Once all materials are in order, a court order will be prepared and submitted to the Judge for signature.
In some cases, it may be possible to avoid probate by transferring assets to a living trust. This is done by submitting documentation to place the asset under the trust. If an estate is placed in a living trust, it will not need to go through probate as the trust will automatically transfer title to the beneficiary. In certain circumstances, such as when a living trust includes a house but documentation was never submitted, you may be able to apply for certain exemptions from the estate under what is called the Heggstad exemption or Ukkestad rulings case.
Before using a transfer with retained life assets to avoid testamentary administration of real property, it is important to carefully examine the tax effects of such a transfer. Similarly, life insurance payments do not have to go through probate as they are paid directly to beneficiaries. The court will use the will to determine if probate is necessary and ensure that the deceased's wishes are followed for the dispersion of the estate. As an experienced probate attorney, I can help you understand what needs to be done and efficiently file all court documents so that you can move through the probate process as quickly as possible.