What Happens During a Probate Court Hearing

What Happens During a Probate Court Hearing

The anticipation of going through a probate court hearing process can be stressful.  Coping with the death of someone you love is one of life’s biggest challenges.  Besides the typical grieving process, other logistical concerns need to be dealt with, most likely including starting the probate process. 

 

When it comes to managing a decedent's estate, the process is referred to as “probate”. Many people worry it is daunting and difficult because they don’t know what to expect from a probate court hearing.  However, it can be as simple as five steps! 

 

Knowing what to anticipate in the probate hearing can help alleviate the stress associated with the probate process and, furthermore, allow contestants to focus more on important issues associated with the mourning process.  

 

The initial question you ask if you are involved in settling an estate is "What is probate?"

What Is Probate

Probate is a process whereby specific decedent's debts may be paid in full and the legal title to the decedent's estate held in the decedent's name and not otherwise distributed by law is handed over to heirs and beneficiaries. 

 

If a decedent had a will, and the decedent had assets subject to probate, the probate process starts when the executor, who is recommended by the decedent in the last will, presents the will for probate in a courthouse in the county where the decedent lived or owned assets. 

 

If there is no will, someone needs to ask the court to designate him or her as an administrator of the decedent's possessions. Oftentimes, this is the spouse or an adult child of the decedent. Once elected by the court, the executor or administrator becomes the legitimate representative of the estate. 

 

The probate process in California law requires these steps. 

Process of a Probate Court Hearing Step #1: File a Petition for Probate and Notify Heirs and Beneficiaries

The first step in initiating probate proceedings is filing a petition with the California Superior Court in the county where the deceased resided at the time of her death. This petition will trigger the court to schedule a hearing in around thirty (30) days. 

 

You will inform the court about the deceased, whether there is a will, who will be accountable for administering the estate, who the next of kin are, and a rough estimate of the assets. 

 

The court will set a hearing to enable anyone to challenge the evidence of the petition. Before the hearing, it is necessary to mail the notice to everyone specified in the will, along with all legal heirs of the deceased. The notice must also be given to potential creditors. 

 

You are also obliged to publish a notice in the newspaper for the interested party to know all about probate court hearings for the said probate. 

 

Once a petition to probate an estate is filed, the court will issue an order setting a hearing. Any involved party will receive notice of the hearing. “Interested party” includes the personal representative, any heirs of the deceased, all creditors, and anyone named in the will.  

 

In a probate process, there are possible provocations. If there is a will, the valid objections are: 

  • There is a more recent valid will, and that will should be a probate 

 

  • The deceased was not in their full mental capacity when they signed the will 

 

  • The signature of the will is falsified 

 

If there is no will, the priority of administration goes as follows: 

 

  • Surviving spouse 

 

  • Surviving children 

 

  • Surviving parents   

 

  • Surviving siblings   

 

  • Surviving aunts/uncles   

 

  • Surviving nieces/nephews   

 

  • Extended family 

 

Once the hearing is completed and any provocations have been dealt with, the court will distribute the Letters of Testamentary (if there is a will) or Letters of Administration (if there is no will). These letters provide the executor or administrator the official legal authority to act on behalf of the estate.

Process of a Probate Court Hearing Step #2: Report The Inventory Of The Estate

The next step in the probate process is an inventory of the estate. This inventory, determining reasonable market value for all items in the estate, must then be presented to the court within a certain period, varying from state to state. 

 

The executor will generally be able to take custody of valuing the items of lesser value, but assets such as homes, stocks, real estate or valuable art and collections should be appraised and valued by professionals either elected or certified by the court. These expert asset valuers appointed by the court are often known as probate referees or commissioners. 

 

The personal representative needs to determine which creditors’ claims are valid and pay those and other final bills from the estate.  In some occurrences, the personal representative is allowed to sell estate assets to meet the decedent's obligations. 

 

They must then collect, inventory, and appraise all assets that are subject to probate and present them to the court, such as bank accounts, retirement accounts, stocks, bonds, and real estate as well as personal effects, such as valuable art collections.

Process of a Probate Court Hearing Step #3: Payments to Creditors

Once the personal representative has given notice of the death to creditors, those with debts payable by the estate must submit a claim. If those claims are determined to be valid, they will be paid from the estate. 

 

All legitimate debts must be paid before other distributions can be made. This covers all bills, as well as funeral charges. California orders creditors to present their claims in four months of the appointment of the personal representative.

Process of a Probate Court Hearing Step #4: Estate Tax Payments

The personal representative is also accountable for ensuring that all estate taxes are paid, which covers federal estate taxes and state taxes, which the state of California requires. 

 

In most events, a personal representative would not be held responsible for estate taxes, but if the estate has been distributed before the taxes are paid and there aren’t enough assets left to pay those taxes, personal accountability may be imposed.

Process of a Probate Court Hearing Step #5: Concluding the Estate

The last step is closing the estate.  This final step includes providing an accounting of all steps taken by the personal representative about the estate. 

 

A petition, which summarizes the estate and reports all actions taken on behalf of the state, will be filed with the court. The petition also covers the fees to be paid to the personal representative and the estate attorney, if relevant. 

 

If there are no objections and the court approves the accounting, then an order will be registered by the court concluding the estate. Once this happens, the personal representative can then divide the remaining assets to heirs and pay any mandatory fees.

Do You Need a Probate Attorney?

The court process can be arduous and if you are trying to probate the will of a loved one, you need an experienced attorney to help you navigate it. 

 

If you need to learn more about probate court hearings, call Andrea Aston, a state-licensed attorney experienced in helping executors settle estates.  With her specialization in trust and estate planning as well as probate, she can easily guide you through the entire probate process.

Call (760) 758-1565 or email aaston@trustandestatelawyer.net to set up a free consultation today!

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