What is probate?

This is the most common question we get.

Probate is three things: it’s a code, it’s a process, and it’s the name of the court. It is the way that the state of California, and many states, has decided to deal with what happens when someone dies. It’s a process of going through notifying their creditors, making sure their assets are given to either of their heirs if there’s no will, or their beneficiaries if there is a will. It makes sure that public agencies that need notice get it. This includes the Department of Health Services and the Franchise Tax Board. You need it if your loved one died and they had any real property of any value.

There are different types of probates at different lengths and costs, depending on how much the property is worth. Probate can take a year to two years and can be five to ten percent of the estate. It can also be a six to eight-week process if a piece of real property is low. If the estate is worth more than $150,000, we usually end up in probate court. This means somebody is going to have to follow the petition with the court to be appointed and get the process started. This is something we do on a monthly basis. We’ve done it hundreds and hundreds of times and we can help families with it pretty easily.

If an estate is not in a trust, it’s going to go to probate?

Yes and that’s almost exclusively all the cases we ever worked on where there’s real property worth more than a $150,000. If the only asset of a person is a bank account and it’s worth under a $150,000, that may not have to go through probate. You might be able to do that privately with the bank depending on the type of account. Other accounts like life insurance or retirement accounts that have beneficiary designations also typically avoid probate because they’re just going right to the beneficiary.

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