Unfortunately, once someone has passed there is little to do but manage the process based upon the existing documents, assets and situation.
The first step in a probate is to determine who will manage the process in front of the court. If the deceased person created a will, the will likely names an “executor”, who would manage the process. If there is no will, a family member will typically go to court to ask to be appointed as the “administrator” of the estate. This role requires the same steps, whether you are called an “executor” or an “administrator”.
Here are some first steps:
- The proposed executor files a Petition for Probate with the court in the county where the deceased person lived, along with the deceased person’s will, and gets a hearing date.
- The proposed executor provides notice of the hearing to beneficiaries and creditors.
- At the hearing, the court issues “Letters of Testamentary or “Letters of Administration”, appointing the executor and granting that person authority of managing estate assets.
Once the executor is appointed, the executor has the following duties (in coordination with the executor’s attorney):
- Gathering the deceased person’s assets
- Preparing a spreadsheet keeping track of income and invoices
- Obtaining a taxpayer ID number and opening an estate bank account
- Compiling an inventory and appraisal of all probate property; the Probate Referee (the appraiser appointed by the court) appraises and confirms the value of all probate property, particularly probate real estate
- Filing tax returns for the deceased person and for the estate
- Protecting all assets – maintaining insurance for a house, safeguarding tangible personal property from theft or damage
- Paying outstanding bills and creditors’ claims
Finally, once all these matters are completed, the executor files a Petition for Final Distribution, asking the court for permission to distribute the estate assets to the people who inherit them.
Our probate attorneys can make this process much easier by handling all the court filings and even the complicated administration for you. Not every estate planning law firm handles probate administration because it requires expertise in local court rules and Judicial Council forms. We pride ourselves in handling both the initial estate planning and the distribution of assets through probate or trust administration.