In some cases, the probate process in California can take as little as nine months, but that is rare. It typically takes anywhere from half a year to eighteen months, and complicated cases may take as long as two years or more. However, having an idea of how long a case may take helps you understand the process.
Stages of the California Probate Process
In the simplest cases, those in which there are no difficult creditor claims, disputes over ownership of assets, or arguments against a will, probate often goes smoothly. It occurs in seven phases, and if there are no complications that require additional phases, the system proceeds as follows.
- Locating a will. In many cases, the decedent’s attorney has the individual’s will, and a simple call to let them know the person has passed away gets the process started. The lawyer will access the client file and begin probate administration. However, if the individual’s loved ones are unsure of who prepared the will, they may need to search the person’s home for documentation. It is important to note that wills should never be placed in a safe deposit box, as doing so may require a court order to open the box.
- Providing a death certificate to the necessary entities. Any organization that will be involved in the probate process will require a death certificate. This may include life insurance companies, brokerage firms, and banks.
- Filing a petition with the probate court. Probate administration requires filing a petition for probate, which usually includes the death certificate and a copy of the will. When there is a known will, the court will appoint the individual named by the decedent as the executor of the will. If there is no known will, the judge will typically appoint someone to be the administrator of the intestate estate.
- Locating the person’s assets. Sometimes identifying an individual’s assets takes months to complete. It may even require waiting until the following year to get annual statements from all of the companies where the person held accounts. In some cases, professional appraisals are necessary to assess the value of belongings.
- Paying creditors and necessary taxes. One of the executor’s duties is to gather the individual’s remaining bills, including any end-of-life medical expenses, ensure they are valid and pay them off. It is also necessary to file the individual’s estate tax return and final income tax return.
- Distributing assets to beneficiaries and heirs. Once all bills and liabilities of the person’s estate are taken care of, the administrator or executor must distribute whatever assets are left to the decedent’s legal heirs. If the individual had a will, it should outline which beneficiaries receive certain assets. However, in cases where there is no will, the remaining assets will be dispersed according to the state’s intestacy laws.
- Completing the process. To finish probate administration, the court must approve an accounting of the estate. Once the necessary tasks are completed, the probate court will close the individual’s file.
Why Does Probate Take So Long?
In cases of a typical “moderately sized” estate, the probate process cannot begin until after the individual’s funeral. At that point, the executor must complete their required duties, such as locating assets, paying creditors, and handling taxes.
It is time-consuming because the executor must be meticulous in examining all bank statements, tax returns, and other documents to ensure the decedent’s assets are properly accounted for. This tedious process involves a great deal of paperwork and careful adherence to deadlines. It is usually wise for the executor to seek the counsel of an experienced estate planning attorney to help them complete their duties and avoid any delays.
What Factors Can Delay Probate Administration?
The probate process in California may be delayed due to any of the following circumstances:
- There are many beneficiaries. In some cases, the duties involved in locating documents and handling the decedent’s outstanding debts go smoothly, only to be complicated later by the number of beneficiaries the individual left assets to. Communication with various individuals, especially when they are not local to the area, can slow the process down.
Additionally, when there are more beneficiaries, there is a greater likelihood that someone will dispute the will or the way the estate is being administered. When one of the beneficiaries decides to hire their own attorney to monitor probate administration, it further slows the process. If their attorney finds anything they feel is wrong, they may file a motion requiring the court’s approval before the process may go on.
- There are issues with the person’s will. Any beneficiary has the right to contest a will, but it is rare for them to get a favorable ruling from the court. To win such a case, the person must prove the decedent was either coerced into signing the will or that they were not of sound mind when they signed. When a will is contested, it usually creates a major delay.
- The individual had no known will. If there is no will when a person passes away, the first step is for an individual to petition the court to appoint them as executor of their loved one’s estate. If more than one person wishes to be the executor, the court will review their qualifications and decide.After an executor is in place, all debts must be paid before the remaining assets can be distributed. Since no one was named as an heir in a will, the assets are dispersed by means of an algorithm called intestate succession. If there is no will that can be legally validated, the probate process will take longer than if there was a will.
- Taxes hold up the process. When a person’s estate owes taxes, the executor must file paperwork with the IRS and then wait for a response before moving on. Sometimes the wait for a response from the IRS is as long as eight months.
- There are complicated assets. Sometimes the very assets an individual leaves behind can complicate the probate process. For instance, if the person died owing money on a property they had purchased or owned part of a business, the executor will be tasked with distributing equity in the business venture or property. In some cases, the assistance of a professional appraiser is necessary to settle such complex matters.
A Skilled Estate Planning Attorney Can Make Things Easier
The loss of a loved one is hard for most individuals to bear, and settling their estate can often lead to extreme anxiety. The compassionate legal professionals at the Law Office of Christopher P. Walker can help to ease this burden and help the family through difficult times. Visit our website today to see how we can help.