When a loved one passes away, you’re consumed with grief. The last thing you want to think about is how assets are divided up. Unfortunately, dealing with assets and the estate is necessary in the aftermath of one’s passing. If you’ve recently lost someone you care about, you may find yourself wondering “What is probate?” Learn what it is and how you can navigate this legal process.
What Is Probate?
Probate is a legal process that occurs after someone passes away. In this process, a court determines how that person’s assets will be divided up. It also dictates how creditors will be paid. Having a valid will can make all the difference in how this process unfolds. You may have heard bad things about probate. This usually has to do with how time-consuming and lengthy the process is. The probate process is paid for out of the estate, so the longer a case goes on, the more depleted the estate will become.
Testate vs. Intestate Wills
Testate means there is a valid will in place, while intestate means there was no will, or the will was proven to be invalid. If the will is valid, the court will use this to name an executor and follow some of the last wishes laid out in the will, if not all of them. When a person dies intestate, the assets will be distributed via California probate law on intestate succession. There will be a court-appointed representative in charge of distributing assets. Dying intestate can elongate the probate process, so setting up a final will and testament can greatly help your loved ones in the future. Regardless of whether your loved one died intestate or testate, some of the steps for probate are the same.
The executor named in the will or appointed by the court is responsible for notifying all creditors and heirs of the probate proceedings. California probate law allows creditors up to one year to place a claim against the estate for repayment. After that window has expired, they may not file a claim in most cases. All heirs, including the ones not mentioned in the will need to be notified of the proceedings. Any heir that sees fit has the right to contest the will. Waiting for all heirs to come forwards and for creditors to come forward is one of the lengthier steps to probate.
2. Debts & Taxes
The executor is in charge of paying off debts and taxes using the assets and estate. The executor must file both personal and estate tax returns if the estate is over a certain income. This adds time to the probate process as it generally takes the IRS 3-4 months to process estate tax returns. Any claims of debt against the estate made in the one year period after notification will need to be paid off using the estate. When an executor is named, they are responsible for the estate and its financial management. If you are the executor of an estate and need help with probate proceedings, contact our San Jose lawyer, Michael Lonich. He is an expert in estate planning and probate.
3. Assets & Division
After debts and taxes have been taken care of, and if no heirs have decided to contest the will, asset division can begin. With the help of a judge, assets will be passed on how the will lays out or how the court dictates. If an heir does decide to contest the will, probate cannot begin until these proceedings are completed. The contesting of a will can take years to resolve, which is a drain on the estate and extends the probate proceedings indefinitely.
What is probate and what steps must an estate go through for assets to be distributed? If you are an executor or an heir in a probate case and have questions about the next steps, contact our legal offices at Lonich Patton Ehrlich Policastri. We offer free 30 minute consultations – both virtually and in person. You can set your consultation up here.