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FAQs About the California Probate Process 

Leet Law Dec. 29, 2022

House Model Made from Wooden Block and Jigsaw Puzzle with Text ProbateWhen someone passes away, their estate must be settled. This process can be complicated, especially if the decedent left behind a will or if they died without a will. Understanding the probate process in California is essential for those who are involved with settling an estate. 

Our probate attorneys at Leet Law are equipped with the legal knowledge and experience to answer some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) about the probate process in California. From our office in San Jose, California, we provide legal counsel to clients in neighboring areas, including Oakland, San Francisco, Palo Alto, and other parts of the Bay Area.  

FAQs About the Probate Process in California 

Let’s take a look at some of the most commonly asked questions related to probate and estate settlement in California. 

Does an Estate Need to Go Through Probate if a Decedent Left a Will?  

The answer to this question is yes—even if there is a valid will that has been signed and witnessed, the estate still needs to go through probate. In California, the courts oversee all matters regarding estates and wills and will require that an executor or administrator of the estate submit all relevant paperwork before any assets can be distributed.  

What Happens if the Decedent Died Without a Will in California?  

When someone dies without leaving a valid will, they are said to have died “intestate.” In this case, it is up to the court system to determine how the decedent’s assets should be distributed according to state law. Generally speaking, these assets are divided among family members according to California’s intestate succession law.  

It is important to note that when someone dies intestate, their wishes may not be taken into account when dividing their assets—so it is always best for individuals to create a valid will before passing away so that their wishes are taken into consideration by legally binding documents.  

What Is the Role of the Personal Representative in the Probate Process?  

The personal representative (also known as the executor) is appointed by the court and serves as an intermediary between heirs or beneficiaries and creditors of an estate. The personal representative’s job is generally focused on:  

  • Gathering all relevant documents and information regarding an estate;  

  • Paying any outstanding debts;  

  • Filing all necessary paperwork with various governmental agencies;  

  • Collecting money owed to heirs or beneficiaries;  

  • Distributing funds appropriately;  

  • Filing tax returns; and  

  • Preparing reports for court hearings related to dispute resolution or litigation support during probate proceedings. 

If you were appointed to serve as the personal representative of someone’s estate, you might need to contact a probate attorney to help you navigate the probate process.  

Do Small Estates Need to Go Through Probate in California?  

Generally, most estates that are valued at less than $166,250 do not have to go through probate in California, according to the California Courts website. However, this amount is subject to inflation, so it may change over time. If your estate is valued at or above this amount, then it must go through probate. It’s important to note that even if your estate does not exceed this amount, there are certain situations where a small estate may need to be probated.  

What Are the Grounds to Challenge the Validity of a Will in California?  

In order for a will to be valid in California, it must meet certain criteria, such as being signed by two witnesses who were present when the document was created. In addition, if there is any indication that fraud or undue influence was involved with its creation, then it can be challenged on those grounds as well. The person contesting the will must prove that these factors did indeed play a role in its creation and invalidate it.  

How Can a Probate Attorney Assist You With the Probate Process?  

A probate attorney can help you navigate the complex process of probating an estate or contesting a will’s validity in California. They can provide insight into all of your legal options as well as assist you with filing any necessary paperwork and representing you during court proceedings if necessary. Additionally, they can provide guidance on how best to handle assets, debts, taxes, and other financial matters related to the estate or will being contested.  

Get the Legal Guidance You Need 

If you find yourself dealing with matters related to probate or estate settlement in California, contact our probate attorneys at Leet Law to get legal guidance. We can assist you and your family through the probate process in California. Reach out to our office in San Jose to schedule a case review.