Navigating the judicial system can be challenging for someone unfamiliar with the system under the best of circumstances. If you find yourself trying to navigate the probate court system, chances are good that the circumstances are far from the best. The primary purpose of probate court, after all, is estate administration. As such, if you are involved with the probate court, it typically means that you recently lost a family member or loved one. For specific questions and/or concerns regarding the probate of an estate it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced California estate planning attorney. In general, however, you may find the following tips for navigating probate court in Los Angeles helpful if you find yourself involved in the probate of an estate.
Before getting into tips for navigating probate court, it only makes sense to discuss some probate basics first. Probate is the legal process that is typically required to occur after someone dies. When an individual dies, he/she leaves behind an estate that consists of all assets owned by the decedent at the time of death. The primary purpose of probate is to identify, locate, and value those assets and eventually transfer them to the intended beneficiaries and/or heirs of the estate. Probate also gives creditors of the estate an opportunity to file a claim against the estate and ensures that any state and/or federal estate tax due from the estate is paid.
Probate Court in Los Angeles
There are several different reasons why you might find yourself attempting to navigate the Probate Court in Los Angeles. You might have been appointed to be the Executor of an estate in the decedent’s Last Will and Testament or volunteer to be the Personal Representative if the decedent died intestate, or without a valid Will in place. You might also be involved in the probate process as a beneficiary, heir, or even a creditor of the estate. The following tips will help you navigate the Probate Court regardless of your role in the probate process.
- Executor/Personal Representative tips
- Decide whether formal probate is necessary as early on in the process as possible. To do this, you will need to identify and value the majority of the estate assets because California offers an alternative to formal probate for small, uncomplicated estates.
- Although it is always best to retain the services of an experienced California estate planning attorney to assist you, if you decide to proceed without an attorney, you can make use of the “Forms” section of the Court’s website.
- Make sure you are familiar with the Probate Court rules. If you proceed pro se, or without an attorney, the court will still expect you to understand and abide by the court rules which can also be found on the “Local Court Rules” section of the website.
- Learn the legal lingo. Like most areas of the law, probate has its own language. As the Executor/PR you need to learn what the various probate terms mean. The “Probate Glossary” section of the website is a good place to start.
- Creditor tips
- Know how long you have to file a claim. Filing a claim after the statutory time frame given may result in your claim being denied outright.
- Read through the pamphlet “How to File a Creditor’s Claim” published by the Superior Court of California. The pamphlet can be accessed online.
- Beneficiary or heir tips
- Make sure you have read through the decedent’s Will, if applicable, so you understand the gift left to you. Wills filed with the Probate Court are considered public record, meaning you have a right to review the Will even if a copy was not provided to you.
- Educate yourself regarding the California intestate succession laws if you are an heir and the decedent died intestate.
- Consult an estate planning attorney immediately if you question the validity of the Will submitted for probate.
If you have additional questions or concerns about navigating the Probate Court in Los Angeles, contact the experienced California estate planning attorneys at Collins Law Firm by calling (310) 677-9787 to reserve for one of our Free estate planning workshops.