Father’s Death Leaves Family Facing Probate for the Holidays

Father’s Death Leaves Family Facing Probate for the Holidays

A brother and sister came to our Oakland office the second week of December, asking us if we did Probate, and we assured them that we did. Theirs was an especially sad story. Their mother had died when they were young, and their father had raised them single-handedly, including putting them through college while working two jobs, and the three of them had always been very close. The father lived in Colorado and hated to travel; as they grew older, married and had children, it became more difficult to visit him. This year they’d sent their father a plane ticket and he’d agreed to join them in Oakland for the holidays. Both were hoping to convince him to stay.

Holiday without their father

Their father was scheduled to arrive on the 15th, and both the brother and sister called and emailed the night before to check on him, but he didn’t respond. Both siblings were concerned, tried again in the morning, and there still was no response. Since their father had become somewhat isolated, the brother called the police in the Colorado town where his father lived and shared their concern, and the police immediately agreed to go check on him. Within an hour, the police called to inform them that their father had had a heart attack; they’d found him collapsed on the sofa, had called an ambulance and rushed him to the Emergency Room, but were unable to save him. Instead of spending the holidays with their father, these siblings were now dealing with Estate.

Probate: a methodical process with 4 basic steps

Many people think that Probate is an extremely complex legal process for which they need the help of an attorney—and this is not necessarily the case. If none of the heirs is contesting the Estate, California Document Preparers can help you with Probate, and in fact, this is a growing practice area for us. Probate is actually a very methodical process for which there are four basic steps.

  1. File a petition and give notice to heirs and beneficiaries. The Probate process begins with the filing of the petition with the probate court to either (1) admit the will to Probate and appoint the executor or (2) if there is no will, appoint an Administrator of the Estate. Notice of the court hearing regarding the petition must be provided to all of the decedent’s heirs and beneficiaries. Probate is a public process; notice of the hearing is published in a local newspaper to notify unknown creditors, etc. of the beginning of the proceeding.
  2. Assets. Following appointment by the court, the personal representative must give notice to all known creditors of the Estate and take an inventory of the Estate property.  The personal representative then gives written notice to all creditors of the Estate based upon state law; any creditor who wishes to make a claim on assets of the Estate must do so within a limited period of time. An inventory of all of decedent’s probate property, including real property, stocks, bonds, business interests, among other assets, is taken.
  3. Liabilities. All Estate and funeral expenses, debts and taxes must be paid from the Estate. The personal representative must determine which creditor’s claims are legitimate and pay those and other final bills from the Estate. In some instances, the personal representative is permitted to sell Estate assets to satisfy the decedent’s obligations.
  4. Legal title in property is transferred. Following the waiting period to allow creditors to file claims against the Estate, and all approved claims and bills are paid, the personal representative petitions the court for the authority to transfer the remaining assets to beneficiaries. Once the petition is granted, the personal representative may draw up new deeds for property, transfer stock, liquidate assets and transfer property to the appropriate recipients.

An estimated 52% of American adults die without a Living Trust, which means their Estates become matters of public record and require the court-supervised process of Probate. If yours is an uncontested Probate, California Document Preparers can help you through every step of this process. Contact us at one of our three Bay Area offices today.