Whenever somebody passes away, their assets and property will be distributed to any named heirs. In order for these assets to be doled out fairly, the probate process must take place. This essentially makes sure heirs can be found, ensures any assets are properly labeled and categorized, and accounts for any debts and taxes before giving anything out.
In California, courts require that someone be named to oversee the probate process. Wills usually designate a specific person, but courts can also appoint someone if needed. A representative must be an impartial outsider so they can fairly account for everyone who has an interest in the estate, since they will be taking it over to disperse.
1. The first step involves filing the necessary paperwork. This includes filing a petition with the California Supreme Court pertinent to the county where the deceased was living when they passed away. Once paperwork is filed, a hearing will be scheduled in about a month.
2. The second step involves the publication of a notice of hearing after a petition is filed. This notice will be listed in the local newspaper for a minimum of three separate times, alongside being mailed to everyone named in the will, and with any other heirs that might have a legal claim. Creditors are also required to have advanced notice of the hearing and must be given all pertinent information as part of the legal process.
3. The third step has to do with the will. If the will is not self-proving, it is up to the courts and other counsel to prove the will. Self-proving wills usually have some sort of specific jargon or another affidavit from those who actually signed the will, making it valid. All states have their own rules on what makes a will valid, alongside stipulations about creating a self-proving will.
4. Step four involves asset collection. The responsibility of the personal representative is to take stock of all assets that are subject to the probate process. If assets need to be transferred to someone else’s name, the representative is responsible to do so. These might include stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and brokerage accounts. Most courts are going to ask for an inventory of property and might call for an appraisal of items if deemed necessary.
5. Step five is all about paying off debts. Creditors must submit a claim for money once the representative has given notice about a death. Valid claims are paid from the estate and must be made before any other asset dispersion takes place. Debts include bills, expenses for the funeral and other items. California law says claims have to be filed within four months after the representative is appointed.
6. Step six has the representative paying off any estate taxes to the federal government, as well as state authorities. Usually, a representative is not going to be responsible for any estate taxes, but personal liability might come into play if there is not enough property to pay off taxes.
7. The final step sees the estate officially being closed after all of the above are satisfied. The closure process involves an official statement from the representative that lists out all the actions that were taken and details all fees to be paid to attorneys and other representatives. Approved statements then become entered by the court, making the process officially closed. Once this occurs, the assets can be distributed to heirs.
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