probate in california FAQs

Riverside Probate Attorney

The Riverside County probate lawyers at Jones Legal know how complex probate cases can be, especially while you’re mourning the death of a loved one. It’s easy for those who have never dealt with probate issues before to feel completely overwhelmed and confused by all the legal jargon and paperwork. The California probate lawyers from Jones Legal have extensive knowledge about all things probate law, including trust administration, estate planning, wills, estate taxes, and more. To schedule a consultation with us, call our top Riverside attorneys today at 951-742-7213.

What is Probate?

Probate is a legal issue that estates go through once a person dies. Probate litigation can include:

  • Proving the validity of a deceased person’s will
  • Locating and taking inventory of the deceased person’s property
  • Appraising the deceased person’s property
  • Paying estate taxes and debt
  • Overseeing the distribution of the deceased person’s property in accordance with their will or state law if they don’t have a will

Generally, families will hire a probate attorney for the sake of smooth trust administration and estate planning, as probate law is often very confusing and stressful.

What is Summary Probate?

A summary probate proceeding is a simplified version of the probate process that’s designed for smaller estates. By undergoing this simplified probate process, everyone involved may save plenty of time, money, and emotional anguish. 

Qualifications for a Small Estate

Small estates are subject to different requirements depending on the state. A small estate, according to California courts, is one valued at less than $166,250. 

Does the State of California Require Probate?

Yes, the state of California requires probate proceedings to occur unless the assets are linked to a beneficiary or another living owner.

What is an Estate?

An estate is basically a deceased or living person’s net worth. The estate will generally include all valuable property, assets, entitlements, securities, and more. As you can imagine, estates are made up of a lifetime of money and valuable assets, which is why people generally hire probate lawyers for careful and professional management and legal assistance.

What is an Executor?

An executor of a will is in charge of managing all estate affairs once the owner passes away. Executors are generally appointed by the deceased person or by local courts. 

What is a Will?

A will, also called a last will and testament, is a legal document wherein a person expresses their wishes about how their assets will be distributed among their family members once they pass. If someone doesn’t leave behind a will, the state is forced to distribute these things in accordance with its intestacy laws.

California Intestacy Laws

Every state has different intestacy laws, and probate attorneys make sure that these laws are properly followed. In California, if a person dies with:

  • Children but no husband or wife, then the children inherit the estate.
  • A spouse but no parents, siblings, children, then the spouse will inherit the estate.
  • Parents but no siblings, spouse, or children, then the parents will inherit the estate.
  • Siblings but no parents, spouse, or children, then the siblings will inherit the estate.
  • A spouse and one grandchild or child, then the spouse will inherit all of the community property but only half of the separate property.
  • Multiple children and a spouse, then the spouse will inherit all community property and a third of the separate property. Meanwhile, the children will inherit two-thirds of the separate property.
  • Multiple grandchildren from a deceased child and a spouse, then the spouse will inherit a third of the community property and the grandchildren will inherit two-thirds of the separate property.
  • Parents and a spouse, then the spouse will inherit all community property and half of the separate property.
  • Siblings and a spouse, then the spouse will inherit all community property and half of the separate property. Meanwhile, the siblings will inherit the other half of the separate property.

Will Vs Trust

The main difference between a will and a trust is that a will goes into effect once a person dies, while a trust goes into effect immediately. Trusts basically allow a trustee to hold valuable assets for a beneficiary. There are different types of trusts, such as an irrevocable trust, which a person can’t alter after it’s created, and a revocable living trust, which a person can change later, if they desire.

The second major difference between a will and a trust is that wills must undergo probate litigation, while trusts do not. Probate disputes for wills can be time-consuming and complicated, especially if families contest them.

What Does it Mean to Probate a Will?

Probating a will means that a court and a probate lawyer determine its validity while appointing an executor, finding and valuing assets, and paying off estate taxes. 

What is Probate Court?

Probate court basically handles legal issues like wills, will contests, estates, guardianships, and conservatorships. If someone dies without writing up a will, everything they owned will undergo probate proceedings. Probate court proceedings are also necessary for these situations:

  • If a named beneficiary dies and no one updates the will, a California probate lawyer must assist court decisions regarding inheritance.
  • Non-titled items, such as clothes, furniture, household appliances, etc., must undergo a probate proceeding. The only way to avoid this is if the deceased person listed which friends or relatives should inherit their non-titled items.
  • Jointly owned property, or properties listed as “tenants in common,” requires direction from a court. Once again, if the will provides specific instructions about jointly-owned property distribution, then a legal proceeding is unnecessary.
  • Property that’s owned by the deceased person will undergo a court proceeding in order to establish ownership.

What Doesn’t Have to Go Through Probate Court?

There are many assets left behind by a deceased person that do not need to go through probate courts. If the person who died was married, had joint ownership over many assets, or already did some probate administration, probate disputes may be unnecessary. Listed below are specific assets that don’t need to undergo probate litigation:

  • 401ks, IRAs, or any other retirement accounts that name beneficiaries
  • Life insurance money, but not if the estate is listed as the beneficiary
  • Specific property that’s included in a living trust
  • Money that’s included in a payable-on-death (POD) bank account
  • Savings bonds that are included on the POD form
  • Stocks, bonds, ETFs, and other securities that are listed on a transfer-on-death form
  • Jointly-owned savings bonds
  • Real estate property that has a TOD deed
  • Distributions from pension plans
  • Property that’s jointly held with right of survivorship
  • Property that’s owned by tenants by the entirety with a spouse
  • Boats or cars that are listed on the TOD form
  • Cars that are passed down to family in accordance with state law
  • Various household assets that are passed down to family in accordance with state law

What if the Executor Doesn’t Probate the Will?

If you fail to probate a will within 30 days in California, then you ultimately abandon your right as your loved one’s executor. Additionally, all of the deceased person’s assets will stay in their name for an undefined amount of time. Consequently, you won’t be able to sell the assets in order to pay off debt or disperse the assets to beneficiaries. 

Ultimately, failure to probate a will results in unnecessary financial hardship for everyone involved because the estate will continue to accumulate costs, which you will be responsible for.

How to Avoid Probate

Probate proceedings in estate preparation are frequently complicated, time-consuming, and exhausting. Fortunately, in California, you can avoid probate by putting all of your valuable assets and securities into a trust. After that, you can name beneficiaries who will receive your assets after your death. If you mention specific assets on a POD form, you can also escape probate. Furthermore, the jointly-owned property will typically go to the living owner, effectively eliminating the necessity for probate proceedings.

Call a Riverside Probate Attorney at Jones Legal Today

The experienced Riverside estate planning attorneys at Jones Legal are passionate about helping clients resolve their probate matters. We understand how hard it is to mourn a death in the family while undergoing probate litigation. That’s why our Southern California law firm is dedicated to representing clients in probate courts and ensuring that all probate matters are handled swiftly and smoothly. 

Jones Legal also offers legal services such as Riverside worker’s compensation assistance and personal injury representation in the Inland Empire. Call 951-742-7213 or complete our free online case review form to schedule a consultation with us today.