man looking over his will

How Long Does Probate Take in California?

On average, probate in California takes about 12 to 18 months. It can get done in as little as nine months, but that is unusual. If there are any problems, it can take up to two years or longer.

There are ways to get assets to your loved ones faster. A California probate attorney can explain your options and help you set up an estate plan to protect your beneficiaries.

The Stages of the Probate Process

When everything goes smoothly and there are no snags, like a will contest, a dispute about ownership of assets, or improper creditor claims, the probate process in California typically has seven phases. If there are issues, additional steps might be necessary.

  1. Find the will. Sometimes, it is merely a matter of calling the lawyer who prepared the will and letting them know about the death. The lawyer pulls the document out of the client’s file and begins the administration process. If the family does not know who wrote the will, they might have to dig through drawers and boxes, searching for the paperwork. A will should not be stored in a safe deposit box because it can take a court order to open the box. 
  1. Get the death certificate. Every bank, brokerage firm, life insurance company, and other relevant organization will need an original death certificate. 
  1. File a Petition for Probate with the probate court. This filing typically includes a copy of the will, a death certificate, and the Petition for Probate. If you found a will, the court can appoint the person the decedent named in the will to serve as the executor of the will. If no one found a will, the judge can appoint someone to serve as the administrator of the intestate (no will) estate. 
  1. Locate the assets. This phase can take many months, even into the next year, to wait for annual statements in the mail from companies where the decedent had accounts. Even the most organized person might not keep information about every single asset in one place. Some items will need professional appraisals to determine their current value.
  1. Pay the decedent’s creditors and taxes. The executor has to evaluate the decedent’s bills, including from the final illness, determine which ones are valid, and pay them. The executor has to file the decedent’s final income tax return and the estate tax return.
  1. Distribute assets to the heirs and beneficiaries. After dealing with all of the liabilities of the decedent’s estate, the executor or administrator can distribute the remaining assets to the legal heirs and beneficiaries. If there was a will, it will dictate who receives which items, within the bounds of California law on legal heirs. If there was no will, the assets will pass according to the laws of intestacy.
  1. Wrap up the estate. An accounting will go to the probate court for approval. After all the tasks get performed and approved, the court will close the probate file.

Contact our office today. We understand that these steps can feel overwhelming, particularly when you are grieving over the loss of your loved one. You do not have to handle these things on your own. Many people hire a California probate attorney to administer the estate for them. Also, getting a living trust can take many assets out of the probate process.