VCL is adept at handling the California probate process. We represent both individuals seeking to be appointed as personal representatives (Executors, Administrators), as well as beneficiaries or other family members seeking guidance about the process or who intend to make claims against a probate estate.
Probate is essentially the court-supervised administration of a decedent’s estate. The end-result of a probate is an order confirming the transfer of the assets subject to the proceeding to the beneficiaries, which are determined either under a decedent’s Will or under California law. Usually, a probate occurs because either (1) the decedent had no estate plan at all; or (2) the decedent had an estate plan, but one or more assets were left out of that plan. An example of the latter would be if the decedent owned a retirement account and named a primary beneficiary, but that beneficiary predeceased the decedent and the decedent did not name a contingent beneficiary.
The probate process typically takes about a year to complete, with the shortest probates taking approximately six-to-eight months. Of course, complex probates may continue beyond a year. In California, an attorney’s fees for probate are generally set by statute and are typically paid when the court approves the final disposition of the decedent’s estate (or, in longer probates, when the court reviews a status report regarding the probate’s progression). The various parts of a probate—providing notice to heirs, beneficiaries and creditors; completing the inventory of the estate; accounting to the beneficiaries and court; and preparing petitions for distribution or other relief—contain a number of technical requirements, and having an attorney to walk the personal representative through that process can ease stress at the already-difficult time of losing a loved one.
Just because a person died without a Will or Trust, however, does not necessarily mean that a probate will be required. There are other non-probate proceedings to handle the transfer of wealth in certain circumstances. For example, the decedent’s estate may qualify for “small estate” procedures if the value of the decedent’s assets were less than the California probate threshold. Other simplified court proceedings are also sometimes available to confirm transfer of the decedent’s property, such as when spouses held community property and one spouse has passed away, or when the decedent clearly intended to transfer wealth to their trust, but just failed to do so prior to death. VCL routinely handles these other types of non-probate transfers and provides guidance to clients about such options.