The probate process can be complex and time consuming - especially in San Francisco probate cases involving multi-million dollars estates with diverse holdings. Here are my tips.
When a San Francisco County resident dies and has a will, someone must prove that the will is valid. That process is called “probate.” The first step in the probate process is to file the will with the San Francisco County Probate Court Clerk.
Time is of the essence here since California law says the will must be filed within 30 days after the decedent’s death.
Assets may pass through a trust
It is not uncommon for high-net-worth clients to have a trust. In such a case the majority of the decedent’s assets will pass through the trust, leaving little or nothing to be probated. If there are no assets to probate, then the legal requirements are fulfilled once the will has been lodged with the Probate Court.
However, if any assets are not held in the decedent’s trust, it is likely that they will need to be “probated” and then distributed pursuant to the terms of the decedent’s will. In that case the next step in the probate process is to file a Petition to Probate Decedent’s Estate. The petition must include the name of the decedent, his date of death, his address at the time of his death, and the name of the person filing the petition. The petition must also include:
The name of the executor or personal representative;
The names and addresses of the beneficiaries listed in the will;
The names and addresses of everyone who would be legally entitled to inherit from the decedent if there were no will (that is, the decedent’s “heirs at law”); and
The estimated value of the estate.
Once the petition has been filed, the court will set a hearing date. The person filing the petition is required by law to provide everyone who is named in the petition with notice of the hearing. That person must also make sure that a notice announcing the hearing is published in a local newspaper. That announcement must be in the format required by the Probate Code.
After the hearing, the probate judge will enter an order either granting or denying the petition. If the petition is granted, a document known as “Letters Testamentary” will be issued granting the executor authority to oversee and manage the estate is accordance with the will and the probate laws of the State of California.
Unfortunately, things might not always go so smoothly. If someone shows up at the hearing to contest the appointment of the executor, the judge will then have to schedule another hearing to allow that person enough time to file formal paperwork. If a contest is filed, it could take several hearings before a decision is made.
And this is only the beginning...
The hard work really begins once the Court has issued Letters Testamentary. No matter how small the estate, the executor must inventory the estate’s property; pay the decedent’s debts; collect any debts owed to the estate; file and pay estate, gift, and income taxes; and file annual accountings each year until the estate is closed. At the end of the process, once the court has issued an order permitting it, the executor must then distribute the remaining property of the estate to the heirs and beneficiaries.
If you are in or facing a probate in California
A qualified local probate attorney is well versed in all aspects of the complex probate process and typically assists Executors in handling these duties and obligations. If you are currently embroiled in or facing probate in California, please get in touch. I am an estate planning and probate attorney certified by the California State Bar Board of Legal Specialization as specializing in these matters, and I represent high-net-worth clients in San Francisco and surrounding areas.