Mom’s Sudden Death Results in Probate

A client came into our Oakland office in late January to ask if we did Probate, and we assured him that we do. His father had died of cancer in 2015 and his mother had died over the Christmas holidays–a long, sad holiday for the entire family. His mother was just 75 and vigorous—always busy and active. She still lived alone, exercised regularly, loved to travel and get together with her many friends. He had often talked to his mother about creating a Living Trust and a Power of Attorney in case he needed to be making decisions for her, and she always added it to one of her many lists—but she never followed through.

She tripped and slammed her head on the railing

In December, she was on one of her daily walks when she tripped on debris, slammed her head on the iron railing of a bench and crashed to the sidewalk. Local schoolchildren saw her fall, ran over and called 911. She was rushed to the hospital, but she never regained consciousness and died in late December.

Facing both the loss of a loved one and Probate

Now our client was facing both the loss of his mother and the time-consuming, expensive prospect of sorting out her estate in Probate court. He knew it was going to become complicated; while his parents weren’t rich, over the years, they had acquired assets, and they had prepared for a comfortable retirement. The Piedmont home where he and his sister had grown up had appreciated significantly in value. There was a life insurance policy, and they had invested in artwork. There was an expensive car, antiques and jewelry. To complicate matters, his parents had owned a timeshare in Hawaii—the whole family looked forward to their yearly vacation together.

Uncontested Probate–no heir is seeking a larger portion of the estate 

California Document Preparers helps our clients with uncontested Probate—that in which no heir is seeking a larger portion of the decedent’s estate–which saves them a significant amount of money on legal fees. In this case, our client and his sister were the heirs and neither was contesting the estate.

The Court-appointed administrator’s role

As part of Probate, the Court appoints a personal representative, or administrator, to settle the estate, so we work with that administrator throughout the Probate process. In this case, the son became the administrator, who is responsible for:

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

Access to the decedent’s accounts

The Court-apppointed administrator will be able to gain access to all of the decedent’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 the administrator must obtain a federal identification number and open a bank account in the name of the estate, from which 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 state law. In California, as in most states, the first priority is given to the deceased’s spouse, followed by the deceased’s children.

If you’re facing Probate, call one of our three Bay Area offices today to schedule an appointment. Better yet, avoid Probate and get started on your Living Trust! Most of our clients tell us they’re surprised at how easy it was. Make it even easier by purchasing this from our secure online storefront—we’re still available by phone and email when you have questions.