What is Probate?

Probate is the court-supervised administration of your estate. If you die leaving a Will, the Will is submitted to the court and serves as an instruction to the judge of how you would like your estate to be distributed. The Executor that you have nominated in your Will is officially appointed by the judge to serve. There is then a period of 120 days for any creditor to file a claim against the estate. During this period the Executor is responsible for collecting and taking an inventory of the assets of your estate and reporting the value of your estate to the court and to the beneficiaries named in the Will. There is then an accounting to the court and to the beneficiaries for the expenses of administration, the debts paid to creditors, and the amount remaining for distribution. Following court approval of the report, the estate may be distributed to the beneficiaries named in the Will, after which time the Executor may petition to be formally discharged. This is of course only a barebones outline of the probate process. The entire probate process from the date of death until the entire estate is distributed can last as little as six (6) months, but often take years to complete. In the event of death without a Will (intestate), the probate process is the same; however, the court will appoint an administrator (Executor) at its own discretion and the estate will be distributed according to the order prescribed by the California Probate Code, leaving you without a say in how or by whom your estate is administered and distributed. The entire process and all documents become public record and the attorney, Executor and court fees can take a substantial chunk out of the final value of your estate, typically around eight percent (8%) of the gross combined value of all the assets.