Forget the Drama; Probate Court is a Methodical Process

Forget the Drama; Probate Court is a Methodical Process

Abby’s mother died in a tragic automobile accident in January. She had never prepared a Living Trust because, like many people, she assumed that this was something she’d have plenty of time for when she grew old.

An only child, Abby would be the Administrator of her mother’s estate

When Abby came in to our Oakland office, we reviewed the Probate process and her responsibilities as Administrator. On the day of our Probate hearing, Abby showed up at the courthouse, and she clearly had prepared for her day in court—she was wearing a suit and heels, makeup and she’d had her hair done. She confessed that she wanted to look professional, but there was another reason. “There were going to be all those good-looking lawyers in the courtroom.” Abby was turning her mother’s Probate hearing into a drama. Hearing her description of how she scanned the courtroom for witnesses, the judge and prosecutor, we couldn’t help thinking that she’d watched too many old episodes of Law & Order.

There’s no prosecutor or jury in Probate Court

Our client was in the courtroom specifically to get the judge’s permission to proceed with the Probate of Abby’s mother’s estate. “The judge will review your petition and grant Letters Testamentary, the document that authorizes the Executor of a Will to take control of a deceased person’s estate.” When the required paperwork is completed and submitted to the court, the judge is most likely to review and approve it without any discussion.

California Document Preparers generally manages this process for our clients. We answer our client’s questions and ensure the Probate process continues to move forward after the hearing. Disputes and objections are rare. Settling an estate is a straightforward, orderly process.

Probate can be intimidating, yet it’s a very methodical process

As part of Probate, the Court appoints a personal representative, or Administrator, to settle the estate, so we work with that person throughout the Probate process. The Administrator is responsible for:

  • Collecting all Probate property of the decedent.
  • Paying all debts, claims and taxes owed by the estate.
  • Collecting all rights to income, dividends, etc.
  • Settling all disputes.
  • Distributing or transferring the remaining property to the heirs.

Access to the decedent’s accounts

As the Administrator, Abby will gain access to all of her mother’s records–bank statements, savings accounts and income tax returns–to fully understand the financial landscape. This may include valuing assets, taking physical custody of assets and selling assets, as necessary, to pay off debts or expenses.

During Probate, the deceased’s estate becomes a separate tax entity, so Abby will need to obtain a federal identification number and open a bank account in the name of the estate to pay creditors. It is also necessary to file the estate’s tax return and a final individual tax return.

Distribution of remaining assets

Once all taxes and debts have been satisfied, the Court will then distribute any remaining assets according to the Decedent’s will, or according to state law when there is no Will. In California, as in most states, when there is no will, the first priority is given to the deceased’s spouse, followed by the deceased’s children.

In Abby’s case, her father died in 2013, and she was an only child. Once all debts are paid and the estate is settled, the remaining assets will be hers.

We encourage everyone to create a Living Trust

We all hope to live long, happy lives, but sometimes circumstances intervene. Creating a Living Trust is one of the most thoughtful things you can do for your family. Our dedicated team is helpful, compassionate and affordable. Contact California Document Preparers at one of our three Bay Area offices today to schedule an appointment