What is Probate?
Probate is the court-supervised process that involves the administration of a decedent's estate. The court oversees this process in order to ensure that the decedent’s last debts and expenses are paid, and that the decedent’s remaining assets are properly distributed to the intended beneficiaries, as set forth by the terms of the decedent's will. If there is no will in place, the court will handle the estate's case through the same probate administration process, but according to California's law of "intestate succession". This means that a decedent’s estate would be distributed to the decedent’s closest surviving family members if s/he has no Will, with often unintended results. This is precisely why individuals are strongly advised to create estate planning documents and, minimally, Will documentation.
Probate administration involves the following steps:
- Validation of the Will: If the decedent drafted a will before his/her passing, the initial step in the probate process requires the court’s determination that the Will document is valid. If a beneficiary of the estate or other third party has a strong reason to contest the Will, the matter requires litigation through the probate court system.
- Appraisals: Homes, rental property, investment/brokerage accounts, stocks, business interests, artwork, autos and other valuable personal property designated as probate estate assets are subject to a unique appraisal procedure with the court’s supervision in order to determine their values as of the decedent’s date of death.
- Debts: People often owe debts and taxes when they pass away. Probate requires the Executor to identify and satisfy these obligations, and to confirm these steps with the court, in order to ensure payment and satisfaction of such obligations to the identified creditors, and before the decedent’s assets are distributed to the designated beneficiaries.
- Distribution: After all other aspects of probate are completed and resolved, the assets of the estate are then distributed to the decedent’s rightful beneficiaries or heirs at law.
The probate litigation process is rarely seamless, but with professional assistance and guidance from our firm, we can explain all of your options under California law to you, and we can develop a strong legal strategy that will direct you towards a successful and permanent outcome. Our goal is to simplify and streamline the litigation process, to help you to avoid complications before they develop, and to identify, address and resolve legal disputes that may arise within the context of probate administration.
Probate litigation is necessary for the following situations:
- Disagreements regarding the validity of a Will
- Disputes regarding a decedent’s capacity when s/he executed the Will
- Differences in opinion regarding Will interpretation
- Disagreements about an Executor’s status, powers or actions
- Disagreements regarding asset and property division
Can I Avoid Probate?
While not all estates will avoid the formal probate process, certain steps can be taken to prevent the need for court-supervised action. For instance, if a decedent owned assets in joint tenancy with someone else (such as a spouse), or if the decedent has implemented a Trust during his/her lifetime, those assets will not require probate administration. Assets held as community property with rights of survivorship with a spouse or registered domestic partner, or assets that include a “payable-on-death” beneficiary are other exceptions for assets that do not require probate administration.
Avoid Complicated Probate Litigation Issues By Speaking To A Lawyer Today
All of this certainly involves legal complexities and, for this reason, our legal team is uniquely dedicated and experienced to enable clients to efficiently navigate the probate litigation process. We pride ourselves upon our ability to offer effective probate litigation representation and to provide step-by-step explanations for our clients from the beginning of the case until the ultimate conclusion. Even in situations when probate disputes or conflicts arise, we are always ready to step in and to provide effective counsel. With more than 30 years of legal experience, you can trust in our probate lawyers to provide you with skilled representation that is both supportive and compassionate.