Probate proceedings in California can be complicated. At times, a loved one may pass away without an estate plan, with only a will-based estate plan, or with an unfunded trust plan. In these circumstances, it is critically important to consult an experienced probate and estate administration attorney.
At Loew Law Group, PLC, we compassionately and skillfully guide clients through the probate process in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties, and throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California. If you have been appointed as the personal representative of a loved one’s estate, we will work to make sure your interests are protected. Similarly, if a loved one has died without a will in place, we will help you navigate the estate administration process. When you become our client, you will receive first-rate legal representation, and caring, efficient service.
What is Probate?
Probate is a court managed proceeding in which assets are transferred from the estate of a person who has passed away to the new lawful owners or “beneficiaries.” This highly regulated system ensures that all debts and taxes are paid, and that the rights of the beneficiaries are protected. While the time and costs involved depend on the size of the estate, the process can be lengthy and expensive. Smaller estates can take 10-12 months while larger estates can take as long as 18-36 months.
What is the role of a personal representative?
The individual who is named as the executor or personal representative in a will is responsible for carrying out a number of duties, including:
- Filing a petition with the probate court to validate the will
- Notifying the heirs named in the will
- Conducting an inventory and appraisal of the assets
- Settling estate debt with creditors
- Selling estate assets, if necessary
- Distributing the remaining assets to the heirs
To initiate a probate proceeding, the personal representative must file a petition with the probate court to be appointed. Provided that the designated individual is deemed to be capable of acting in this capacity, the court will issue Letters Testamentary, a document that gives the personal representative the authority to undertake his or her duties.
Because a personal representative is considered to be a fiduciary, he or she is in a position of trust with the beneficiaries. In short, a personal representative must carry out his or her duties ethically and can be held liable for any mistakes or misconduct.
Do all of the assets need to be probated?
In California, certain assets are not required to be probated, such as:
- Real property in which title is held jointly, with right of survivorship
- Real estate subject to a transfer-on-death deed
- Property held by a properly funded living trust
- Life insurance policies and retirement accounts with designated beneficiaries
- Bank and investment accounts with payable-on-death (POD) designations
Is a personal representative entitled to compensation?
A personal representative may be reimbursed for expenditures and can also be awarded statutory fees by the probate court, unless a set fee has been specified in the will.
What is an Estate Administrator?
When a person dies without a valid will in place, one of the heirs, a legal relative, or a close friend of the decedent must petition the probate court to be named the estate administrator. The court will issue Letters of Administration and the administrator must manage and distribute the assets according to the state’s intestacy laws. Given that the estate administration process can become complicated if disputes arise among the beneficiaries, it is crucial to have proper legal representation.
At Loew Law Group PLC, we routinely work with executors and administrators to ensure that they fulfill their fiduciary duties and that the interests of beneficiaries are protected.
What is a will contest?
At times, a party may challenge the validity of a will during the probate proceeding in what is known as a will contest. Generally, the grounds for contesting a will include:
- Lack of testamentary capacity
- Improper execution
- Undue influence
While it is often best for the parties to reach a negotiated settlement through the mediation process, trust and estate litigation may be necessary if the dispute cannot be resolved amicably.
Contact Our San Mateo Probate Attorney
At Loew Law Group, PLC, our objective is to protect the rights of personal representatives and beneficiaries alike. If you have been named the personal representative of a loved one’s estate, we will help you navigate the probate process and avoid costly mistakes. We also represent beneficiaries to make sure that they receive an inheritance that was intended for them. Our legal team is well-versed in the California Probate Code and the rules and procedures of the probate courts. You can trust us to provide you with the first-rate legal representation you need and the personal attention you deserve. Please contact our office today to speak with our probate and estate administration attorneys.