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California law rules that the personal representative should have completed probate within 1 year of being appointed executor, administrator, or personal representative of an estate. However, as a general rule of thumb - the probate process will take anywhere from 9-18 months, with some exceptions.
Let us go more in-depth with the timeline so you can understand how long each stage of probate will take.
Once an original copy of the decedent’s will has been located, the first step of probate is to file Form DE-111. This form will need to have the will attached (if available) as well as a death certificate. This step is essentially telling the court that a hearing is required to settle this matter.
The petition package will need to be filed and delivered in the county where the decedent resided (their home jurisdiction).
Once you have received an official hearing date from the court, you will need to file a notice in the local newspaper telling all interested parties of said hearing. This will need to be published a minimum of three times.
Additionally, you will need to mail a copy of the hearing notice to any person named in the will, if the deceased did not die intestate (without a will).
At the first court meeting, it is decided who the Administrator/Executor of the will shall be if there was a will in place. You may suggest who you want the administrator to be, but in the case of the decedent dying intestate, the court will determine who shall be appointed to that position.
Note that you may also be required to post a bond, which is a type of insurance to protect you (and the beneficiaries) in something were to go awry with the estate. This will likely be paid out of pocket and will need to be done before the administrator is granted the legal authority to handle the estate’s assets.
This step is usually quite quick. In many situations, the will would have been signed and witnessed correctly, so the validation process is a simple formality.
If the will was handwritten or another type, this could take a bit longer. But, the process typically involves someone who knew the deceased swearing that this was their will.
Now that you or someone else has been named the official administrator, you are now required to collect all of the estate’s assets and determine their total value. These assets can include:
Note that in some cases you may need to change the title (ownership) of an asset, so a copy of the death certificate will be required to do so.
With some exceptions, the court will require you to find a probate referee (or assign one for you) to ensure that the assets are being counted and evaluated properly.
Once all of the assets have been accounted for, the administrator will need to file Form DE-160 with the court.
Assuming that Form DE-157 (notice to creditors) was filed to notify all possible creditors of the estate that they should come forward with any claims, you may have a lot of IOUs on your hands. In addition to paying these creditors with the estate funds, you will also be required to pay any estate taxes, as well as the decedent’s tax returns.
The second hearing, as long as everything has gone smoothly, will involve the judges signing off on the final distribution of the estate, which is to the beneficiaries. During this time you may sell real estate and distribute the funds. If so, make sure to file Form DE-260 to both petition for, and let the court know that these sales have occurred.
Once all of the assets have been distributed, debts and claims paid, and receipts and other documents filed, the estate will be ready to be closed. The administrator will need to file proof of their previous actions to fulfill the wishes of the deceased. A final hearing will commence proving that all the needed steps were taken throughout the entire process and that the assets were handled correctly.
While the steps involved in probate may seem long and complex, there are ways to expedite the process a bit.
First and foremost is to hire an estate professional or accountant. They will be able to help you determine the assets of the estate, as well as file the complex estate returns. That will save you loads of time.
If you're looking to do probate without the help of a professional and do it yourself, it's imperative that you fill out the forms accurately and on time with probate court hearings.
Improper forms and missed court hearings can extend the length of probate.
You may be in the middle of settling an estate for your loved one and you've discovered how hard it really is.
For the benefit of your loved ones, consider thinking ahead: create your detailed estate plan and save your loved ones from more hardships.
If you are curious, you can review the progress of your case by either calling the court handling your matter or by examining the online court records. This will help you see exactly where your case is at, and help you strategize for the next upcoming step.
If you are feeling like probate in California is out of your depth with everything else you have going on, we get it. Losing a loved one is one of the most painful things you can endure.
You don’t need to make it harder by working through complex probate proceedings. Our estate experts and accountants at ClearEstate can take care of the entire process for you. Send us a message to get started. We’d love to hear from you.
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