It takes an enormous amount of emotional strength and energy to deal with the death of a loved one. It’s a harsh reality to face, and unfortunately, it’s something that we all must go through at some point in our lives. It’s an even greater challenge to accept that an individual’s death means that there is now a giant responsibility on our shoulders to take care of their estate. This process is called probate, which is required by law to ensure that the estate is properly managed and that all debts and taxes are paid.
If you live in California, the probate process can be even more complicated. California has some of the most detailed probate laws in the country. Failing to file for probate properly can have serious consequences. By better understanding what can happen if you don’t file probate in California, you can avoid any potential legal issues down the road.
What Are the Consequences of Not Filing Probate in California?
Probate must be completed any time someone passes away and leaves behind an estate. The entire process must be completed within one year from the date of death, or the estate will be subject to penalties.
If you do not file for probate within this time frame, the estate will be considered “abandoned” by the court. This means that all the assets in the estate will be frozen and inaccessible to the beneficiaries. To have the assets released, you will need to go through a complicated and time-consuming legal process.
Some common consequences of not filing probate in California include:
- The estate will be frozen and inaccessible to the beneficiaries: This consequence is inevitable, as property and assets cannot be transferred without going through probate first. This is because the court needs to ensure that all debts and taxes are paid off before the estate can be distributed. If the estate has any owed debt, the court will use the assets to pay off these debts before releasing the remainder of the estate to the beneficiaries.
- The estate will be subject to late fees and penalties: Failing to file for probate within the one-year time frame means the estate is subject to late fees and penalties. These fees can quickly add up and eat into the value of the estate, leaving less for the beneficiaries.
- The estate cannot close existing debts: One of the main purposes of probate is to settle any debts that the deceased may have owed. If probate is not filed, then these debts will go unpaid. The beneficiaries may be held responsible for these debts, as they will become the new owners of the estate.
- Anyone can lose their role as executor: The executor is the individual responsible for managing the estate and ensuring that probate is filed. If probate is not filed within the one-year time frame, then the executor can be removed from their position. This means that someone else will need to be appointed to manage the estate, which can cause delays in the probate process. If you want to remain in control of the estate, it is important to file for probate as soon as possible.
- The court may appoint a conservator: If the estate is not properly managed, the court may appoint a conservator to take over. A conservator is legally defined as a court-appointed individual responsible for managing the estate and protecting the assets. This can cause some dispute among the beneficiaries, as they will no longer have control over what happens to the estate and will be left up to the conservator to decide.
- Criminal prosecution: In some cases, failing to file for probate can result in criminal prosecution. This is typically only seen in cases where the executor is intentionally trying to avoid probate or is mismanaging the estate. If you are convicted of a crime, you could face jail time, fines, and other penalties. This shows how serious the consequences of not filing for probate can be, so it is important to make sure that you file as soon as possible.
As you can see, there are a number of serious consequences that can occur if you don’t file for probate in California, which can range from mild penalties to criminal prosecution. It is important to make sure that you file for probate as soon as possible after someone passes away to avoid any of these nuisances.
How to Protect Yourself from the Consequences of Not Filing Probate
There are a few things that you can do to protect yourself from the consequences of not filing probate:
- First, it is important to ensure you are aware of the deadlines. In California, you have one year from the date of death to file for probate. If you know that someone has passed away, it is important to start the process as soon as possible or become more comfortable with the details of the estate to better assess how much time you have.
- Second, it is important to have a backup plan. If you are the executor of an estate, make sure that you have someone else who is willing and able to take over if you cannot file for probate. This will ensure that the process can still be completed even if you cannot do it yourself. This has historically hurt many people when they have lost a loved one unexpectedly and could not take care of the estate themselves.
- Lastly, it is important to consult with an attorney. These are the experts who can fill in any knowledge gaps or answer those last-minute questions that you may have. It is not required of any average citizen to be an expert in probate law, so don’t feel embarrassed or ashamed to ask for help when you need it. Probate lawyers can also help ensure the process is completed correctly without their clients facing any penalties.
Sweeney Probate Law
If you are ready to file for probate to avoid these pressing consequences or have any questions, Sweeney Probate Law can help. Sweeney Probate Law is a full-service probate law firm that has been helping families in California for many years. Contact us today to get started.