There comes a time in everyone’s life when they must confront the reality of their own mortality. For some, this is a difficult thing to accept. Others take it in stride and make the necessary preparations for their passing. Regardless of how you feel about your own death, it is important to understand what happens to your assets after you are gone.
In the state of California, any assets not held in a trust or that are without designated beneficiaries are subject to probate. This means if you pass away without a will or other estate planning documents in place, your assets are distributed in accordance with state law. In such a case, decisions may not match your wishes. Probate can be a lengthy and costly process, so it is important to understand what assets are subject to probate before you die.
The most commonly identified assets that are subject to probate are:
- Real estate. This includes any property that you own, such as your home, land, or rental property.
- Personal belongings. This includes things like furniture, jewelry, art, and collectibles.
- Financial accounts. This includes bank accounts, investment accounts, and retirement accounts.
- Business interests. This includes any ownership stake that you have in a business.
If you have any of these assets and do not have a trust or other estate planning documents in place, it is important to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to ensure that your selected assets are distributed according to your wishes.
Understanding the Probate Process
The probate process can be complex, emphasizing the importance of having a clear understanding of how it works. Probate is the legal process that is used to settle an estate after a person dies.
The process can be described in six steps:
- Determining an estate’s assets and liabilities. The first step in the probate process is to inventory the deceased person’s assets and liabilities. This includes things like real estate, personal belongings, financial accounts, and business interests. It’s important to note that some assets, like life insurance policies and retirement accounts, may not be subject to probate depending on how they are structured. This first step ends after each asset is determined and valued.
- Filing documentation with the court. The next step is to file the appropriate documentation with the court. This includes the death certificate, a petition for probate, and any other required paperwork.
- Notifying interested parties. Once the documentation has been filed, the court will notify any interested parties. This includes family members, creditors, and beneficiaries.
- Paying taxes and debt. The next step is to pay any taxes or debts that the estate owes. This includes things like income taxes, estate taxes, and outstanding debts.
- Distributing assets. After all debts and required taxes have been paid, the remaining assets are distributed to the beneficiaries. This is typically done according to the terms of the will, but if there is no will, the assets will be distributed according to state law.
- Closing the estate. The final step is to close the estate. This includes filing the appropriate paperwork with the court and distributing any remaining assets to the beneficiaries.
What Does a Probate Attorney Do?
A probate attorney is a lawyer who specializes in the probate process. A qualified attorney can help you understand the probate process, file the necessary paperwork, and navigate the legal system.
Common responsibilities of a probate attorney include:
- Filing paperwork with the court
- Determining beneficiaries
- Paying debts and taxes
- Distributing assets
- Closing the estate
If you are considering the probate process, it is important to consult with an experienced probate attorney to ensure that nothing is overlooked or forgotten while going through the process.
What Qualities Should You Look for in a Probate Attorney?
When choosing a probate attorney, it is important to find someone who is experienced and qualified to handle your case. Here are some qualities to look for in a probate attorney:
- Experience. They should have experience handling probate cases. They should easily be able to share their success stories and give you a general idea of what to expect.
- Qualifications. A skilled attorney should have the necessary qualifications, including a law degree and admission to the state bar.
- Knowledge. Your attorney needs to have a thorough understanding of the probate process and the laws that govern it. They should be able to answer any questions you have about the process and clearly articulate the next steps.
- Compassion. A qualified attorney should be compassionate and understanding. This is a difficult time for you, and it is important to find an attorney willing to help you through the process.
- Communication. Your attorney should be able to communicate effectively. They should be able to answer your questions in a way that you can understand and keep you updated on the status of your case.
- Determined. You want an attorney who is determined to get the best results for you. They should be willing to fight for your interests and ensure that the process is as smooth as possible.
Choosing the right probate attorney is an important decision, and you should take your time to find someone who you feel comfortable with and who you believe will be able to get the best results for you.
What Happens If You Don’t Have a Will?
If you die without a will, your assets are distributed according to state law. This means your family may not inherit your assets the way you envisioned. Your family must then go through the probate process to settle your estate. This can be a long and difficult process that is difficult to bear given the already emotional circumstances. With a little planning, you can avoid this by creating a will and naming your beneficiaries.
Contact McCunn Law Today
If you have any questions about the probate process or if you need assistance creating a will, contact McCunn Law today. Our experienced and qualified attorneys have already helped many people through the probate process, and we can help you too. We understand how difficult this time can be, and we are committed to doing everything we can to make the process smooth and stress-free. Contact us today to schedule a personalized consultation and begin the process of protecting your assets and your family.