The probate court process is a specialized legal process by which a deceased individual’s assets and property are legally transferred to their heirs or beneficiaries. Probate court cases in California can be complex and time-consuming, and oftentimes people are inclined to do all they can to expedite the probate process or avoid it altogether.
Usually, the best way to do this is to have a comprehensive estate plan in place that clearly spells out who gets what assets upon someone’s death. An estate plan requires a last will and testament, but often this is only a starting point. Various types of trusts and powers of attorney are other legal tools that might be involved in a robust estate plan. Of course, once someone has passed on, it is too late to worry about putting an estate plan in place. In this situation, the next best way to expedite probate court is to retain the services of a qualified attorney.
Some people have an alternate idea about how to avoid the probate court process. They may look at the stress, hassle, and long waits commonly associated with the probate court process and wonder if it can be bypassed altogether. They may decide the easiest way to do this is by simply never notifying the probate court and never filing for probate court services in the first place.
This strategy is highly inadvisable for a number of reasons—not least of which is the fact that it may even constitute a crime under certain circumstances.
Probate court can seem like an unnecessary hurdle to deal with at an already difficult time in the aftermath of losing a loved one, but the probate process exists for a reason. Just like the other components of the legal system, the probate court and its various procedures are intended to ensure that every citizen is treated fairly and in accordance with the law.
The probate court is a special branch of the judicial system that deals with the fiscal and material realities of a citizen’s passing. This can mean many things, but some of the probate court’s most common roles include:
It can be natural to see the probate court as a barrier between you and assets that you are rightfully inheriting, especially when you consider the matter cut and dried, or are struggling to make ends meet after handling your loved one’s final expenses. It is important to remember that the process exists to ensure you are treated fairly and to protect a deceased citizen’s legacy, property, and remaining dependents. If you are feeling frustrated with the process, it may be time to reach out to the experienced estate planning team at Sweeney Probate Law for assistance navigating California’s probate courts.
A: It may be possible to transfer certain assets from a decedent to a beneficiary or heir without subjecting them to the probate process. For this to take place, however, the assets in question must have a clearly and obviously established beneficiary. This means you will not have to wait out the probate process to access funds from financial instruments like life insurance policies or jointly held bank accounts. Typically, you should not expect to settle an entire estate without some involvement from the probate court.
A: The probate process is mandatory in many states but is not always necessary in California. The California courts have adopted simplified procedures for streamlining the transfer of certain assets. Items that can typically be transferred without the need for the probate process will usually be those with clear beneficiaries already established, such as life insurance policies, shared bank accounts, and jointly held real estate. While probate is not always mandatory in California, you should expect to spend significant time on the probate process if you are dealing with any large or complex estate, or any complicated inheritance situation.
A: You should begin the probate process as soon as possible after someone passes away. Probate courts can be busy, and you may have to wait weeks for your initial hearing even if you file immediately. Once the probate case is opened, the court will assign a personal representative to care for the estate, handle any financial obligations related to the estate, and complete certain important steps in the probate process. This representative should be trustworthy and capable. If there was a valid will, the personal representative would typically be the executor named therein. Once a personal representative has been named, that person has one year from the date of their appointment to complete the probate process.
A: If a probate case is never opened, it will cause long-term problems for anyone looking to access the decedent’s assets. This will also make it difficult or impossible for you to make important decisions about transferring or using those assets. Without opening a probate process to transfer assets in accordance with the law, all bank accounts, real estate, cars, and other assets will remain in the decedent’s name indefinitely.
If you’ve recently lost a loved one and are concerned about the probate process, or want to keep certain assets out of the probate process, the experienced team at Sweeney Probate Law is here to help. With offices from Temecula to San Diego, we have legal experts available today to review your situation. We can help formulate a legal strategy for moving forward through this difficult time and protect your family’s wealth in the process.