The Probate Process – Step by Step
The probate process can be complex, with many involved parties and moving parts. Here’s an outline of what a typical probate case looks like:
- The court determines if a valid will exists. If it does not, the estate must enter the probate process.
- A legal representative of the estate is named. If there is a will, this would be the executor named therein. In a probate case, the court must appoint an administrator. California Probate Code §8461 provides a priority list for which parties the court should consider appointing as the estate administrator, beginning with spouses and domestic partners, and moving on to children and then other descendants.
- The administrator collects and catalogs the decedent’s assets. This includes all types of assets, from tangible physical goods like automobiles and houses to retirement accounts or intellectual property.
- The decedent’s debts and outstanding expenses are paid off from the estate. Assets may need to be liquidated.
- The administrator locates and notifies the heirs. In the absence of a will, the order of inheritance is typically defined by state law.
- The remaining assets are distributed to the identified heirs in accordance with the law. The exact mechanics of this process depends on the kinds of assets being distributed. In the absence of a will, the probate court has the final say in the distribution.
Being Named Probate Administrator
When you are named the administrator of a loved one’s estate, it can feel like an additional burden that you don’t want during a difficult time. Your family may be counting on you to conclude matters swiftly or in a certain way, or there may be familial drama over who gets what when the estate is finally settled. Do not panic over being given this responsibility. Being put in charge of settling an estate means the court finds you trustworthy, organized, and capable of the job.
If the probate court names you administrator of an estate, make sure to do the following:
- Keep detailed and accurate records of all transactions and communications regarding the decedent’s properties and accounts.
- Locate and notify all heirs and creditors.
- Obtain certified copies of the death certificate — you may need several while closing all the decedent’s accounts.
- Catalog all property and keep it safe until such time as the estate is settled and is passed along to the beneficiaries.
- Keep open lines of communication with all involved parties, such as heirs, creditors, and court officials.
- Make financial decisions in the best interests of the estate until such time as it has been distributed to the beneficiaries.
- Cancel credit cards, subscriptions, and other items, and notify any government offices from which the decedent was receiving benefits.
- Gain access to any online accounts, such as email, that contain important documents or digital assets
- Prepare and file the decedent’s final income tax return.
If you need advice or assistance administering a loved one’s estate through the probate process, the probate experts at McCunn Law can help. We take a detail-oriented, highly individualized approach to probate cases so that estates can move through the probate system as quickly as possible and in accordance with your loved one’s final wishes.