Probate Attorney in Woodland Hills, California
The death of a family member is already a difficult time. Unfortunately, uncertainty or conflict regarding the remaining estate can exacerbate the situation. I’m available to serve as counsel to the probate administrator as well as initiate or defend probate litigation. If you live in Woodland Hills, California, or anywhere across the San Fernando Valley, including Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara counties, and are in need of an experienced probate attorney, reach out to The Law Offices of Kenneth W. Drake, Inc. today to schedule a free consultation.
What Is Probate?
Probate is the legal process that most wills must go through after someone dies. A will must be “proved” by a court to ensure it’s valid. Then, the will’s administrator will be responsible for inventorying assets, assessing their value, locating and contacting creditors, paying off debts and taxes, and then finally distributing assets to beneficiaries. Not all assets will have to go through probate as each state has its own guidelines.
In California, estates that are valued at under $166,250 may not have to go through probate, and there’s a simplified process for passing along assets. Additionally, any asset that is jointly owned does not have to go through probate. This happens commonly when one spouse passes away and leaves a jointly owned house or car to the surviving spouse. Most retirement accounts and any assets that are currently in a trust also do not have to go through probate because these will already have a named beneficiary. And, in the case of trusts, ownership has already been transferred to a trustee.
This process can be lengthy (taking several months up to a year to complete) and often involves court fees, legal fees, appraisal fees, as well as the time and effort of the will’s administrator. This can create an added burden for family members who are simply trying to grieve. Because of this, many people find it useful to hire an estate planning attorney to help with this process.
Probate in California
In general, the executor of the will should contact the court to start the probate process. If the deceased died without a will (intestate), a family member can step forward and a judge will typically assign them or another close family member to be the administrator of the estate. They will then have to file a “petition for probate,” as well as notify all beneficiaries and creditors. Once the will has been “proven” (which usually means a witness has testified it’s valid), the court will officially appoint the executor to handle the estate.
They will then begin the process of organizing and inventorying the estate. This usually includes locating items that are specifically named in a will, cleaning out houses and garages, obtaining insurance, locating and contacting creditors, setting up a system for organizing expenses, hiring appraisers, selling off assets, and filing and paying taxes. Once this is complete, the administrator can then distribute assets to beneficiaries. The administrator is also permitted to use money from the estate to pay themselves for their time.
This process can often be completed with minimal input from the court, and many people find with a little help from friends and family it’s a doable — though big — job. Others may wish to hire a probate attorney to help relieve the burden, and in California, these legal fees must be paid as a percentage of the total value of the assets.
Probate Attorney Serving Woodland Hills, California
If you’ve recently lost a loved one and are feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of probate, contact The Law Offices of Kenneth W. Drake, Inc. today for sound legal advice you can trust. I’ve been serving clients in and around Woodland Hills, California, for years, and I can help you, too.