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Understanding the California probate process

On Behalf of | Apr 28, 2020 | Estate Planning

Some California estates must pass through probate court when the person dies. Understanding this process can inform estate planning and guide the deceased individual’s family members. 

Whether planning an estate or serving as an executor, Californians should learn more about the state’s probate requirements. 

Designating probate-exempt assets 

Anything owned by the deceased and another person together will automatically transfer to the surviving person. This type of property does not pass through probate. Examples include a family home and other community property owned with a spouse or domestic partner, assets held in living trusts, and assets such as bank accounts with a named beneficiary. 

In addition, California has a minimum threshold of $150,000 for estates that must go through probate. Estates with nonexempt assets valued lower than this cap can undergo streamlined probate or transfer with a legal affidavit. 

Navigating probate 

For estates worth more than $150,000, the executor or personal executive named in the person’s will starts the probate process. This person files the will in the county court where the deceased lived along with a probate petition. The court will review the estate documents and if appropriate, give the executor or representative authority to manage the person’s estate. 

The executor will receive a legal document called Letters of Administration or Letters Testamentary. He or she can use this document to gather and distribute the person’s assets to beneficiaries as well as pay bills and taxes on behalf of the estate. Typically, the executor opens a bank account in the name of the estate for this purpose. Where necessary, he or she must arrange for professional appraisal of valuable estate assets. 

California executors may conduct most estate affairs without court approval under the Independent Administration of Estates Act. For example, this person can independently reject creditor claims, pay estate taxes and sell assets from the estate other than real estate. Other actions need the approval of the probate court.