Filing California Probate Doesn’t Require a Lawyer
California probate involves legally settling a person’s estate after they have died. This includes paying all debts and dividing property among the living relatives. However, when a living trust is in place, these items can often pass down to heirs without having to file probate proceedings. Going through a probate can be a lengthy and expensive process so planning for what happens to the estate is extremely important. The process varies a bit by state, and you can do it yourself with the right probate forms without a lawyer. Here’s what you should know about probate in California.
In the past, any estate had to be presented to a judge before the heirs could divide the assets. More recently, California has made probate simpler and created a couple of different avenues for completing the process. Some of them don’t require going to court. Remember, probate is the term giving to settling an estate and doesn’t always mean standing before a judge.
In California, you are not required to hire an attorney to complete the probate process. Many estates are small and can be settled using self-help forms provided online or with the help of a legal document assistant. There are a few instances in which a lawyer will be necessary, including contested claims against the estate, unresolved claims against the estate, more debts than money and when the will is unclear as to where assets are divided.
When you work through the probate process on your own, it saves a lot of money as you’re not paying attorney’s fees. Fees are generally set as a percentage of the value of the estate and are based on a fee calculator created by the state of California. If the estate doesn’t qualify to use one of California’s simplified procedures, a lawyer is needed to help with probate.
An estate representative, as implied by the title, is tasked with appearing in court to represent the estate. If a will is present, it should name the person responsible for this. If there is no will, a person can request to be the executor of the estate in a court proceeding. If the will names an executor who can’t do the job or fails to name an executor, another person can petition to carry out the duties.
If a full probate is needed for a large estate, expect the process to take between 8 and 12 months. The first step is a hearing to appoint the estate representative. Then the estate representative receives a series of letters outlining what they are able to do on behalf of the estate. During probate, creditors and other companies must be notified regarding the assets of the deceased individual. A Petition for Final Distribution is given to the court once the estate is ready to be closed.
For estates valued at under $166,250, California offers several small estate alternatives that can speed the process and save money on probate at the same time. Estates that don’t include ownership of property or land, but are made up only of personal belongings, can often be settled quickly, out of court. Using a legal document assistant allows you to file the appropriate paperwork so assets can be divided among the relatives and heirs of the estate.
If land or property is included in the estate, but it is still valued under $166,250, there are a couple of options. Very small estates can be settled without a court hearing. Those valued over $55,425, but under $166,250 can usually be settled in a couple of months with just one court hearing. In these cases, beneficiaries work together to settle the estate and a single estate representative is not needed.
For spouses of the decedent, a spousal proceeding can be filed, regardless of the size of the estate. This proceeding is often faster than traditional probate and allows the spouse to settle quickly.
Filing Full Probate without an Attorney
Full probate requires a lot of paperwork, and this can be an overwhelming job for the average person. Many probate cases, however, are procedural and operate on a routine, which means they don’t require a lawyer. In light of this, California has created a system that allows for completing this documentation via a legal document assistant, rather than an attorney. This person can guide the process but won’t be as pricey as hiring a lawyer.
Settling an estate can be a big job and probate is a process that many are unfamiliar with at the outset. Avoiding a lengthy process and spending time in court is nice and California has done a good job of putting simpler processes in place to help people setting the estate of a deceased loved one. If it’s a job that’s too big to do alone, don’t be afraid to get some help to ensure everything is done properly.