When a Los Angeles resident dies, his or her estate must be administered through the court system so that taxes and creditor claims of can be paid. Once that is accomplished, the remaining property or assets can then be distributed to the beneficiaries of the deceased. Clients often ask: how long does probate take in Los Angeles? The answer will depend on various factors that usually differ for each estate.
Understanding the probate process
An individual’s probate estate includes all property that is in the decedent’s name only. For that reason, a probate estate does not include certain types of property, like trust property, insurance proceeds, or property held jointly with another person. The executor or administrator who is appointed by the court to manage the estate property after someone’s death, will have many duties to carry out. So, when you ask how long does probate take – the answer is very dependent on how complicated the estate property will be.
How long does the process take usually?
The probate process can take anywhere from six months to 2 years to finish. The length of time depends primarily on two factors: the size of the estate and the nature of the assets. If there are any unusual assets that require special attention, that could increase the amount of time it takes to administer the estate. Another factor would be unexpected issues that might come up and prolong the process. Having a will usually makes the process simpler because the will identifies the heirs and beneficiaries.
What is required to close an estate?
Before an estate can be closed with the probate court, the notice of final accounting must be delivered to the beneficiaries and any other interested parties. This accounting will allow these individuals sufficient time to raise any objections they may have. The final step in the process is presenting the final accounting to the court, including a detailed list of the probate assets, expenses, and distribution of the property to the beneficiaries. The final accounting is expected to have a zero balance. Once the court approves the accounting, and if there are no objections raised, then the estate can be closed.
Four methods for avoiding probate
In California, there are primarily four ways to transfer ownership of estate assets without the need for going through the probate process. They include the following:
- operation of law
- summary probate
If these methods are used appropriately, with the help of an estate planning attorney, you may be able to avoid the lengthy and expensive probate process.
California’s summary probate procedure
California’s Probate Code provides for a summary probate procedure, which is an abbreviated probate proceeding that takes less time to complete. Through this process, the estate assets are simply distributed according to the terms of the decedent’s will. This method can be much less expensive and time-consuming. California’s summary probate procedures are available for the following types of estates:
- the aggregate value of personal property does not exceed $100,000
- value of real estate less than $20,000
- value of real estate less than $100,000
- the asset (regardless of type) passes directly to the surviving spouse
Transfer of an estate by operation of law
The California Multi-Party Account Laws are used to determine who owns the remaining funds in a bank account upon the death of the bank account holder. The decedent’s share of such funds will pass on according to the terms of the contract with the bank, or by operation of these laws. The death certificate is presented to the bank and a new account will be opened in the name of the survivor, without any need for probate.
Other methods of transfer
The concept of “right of survivorship” applies when two individuals hold title to property in “joint tenancy” the surviving owner will automatically have full ownership upon the death of the other. Often, community property is held with right of survivorship to the surviving spouse, if it is designated as such. There is also a statute in California that includes certain Nonprobate Transfer Rules, which include transfers by beneficiary and Transfer on Death (TOD) and Pay on Death (POD) securities. Finally, assets that are held in trust also avoid the probate process. With a trust agreement, the property is transferred to the name of the trust at the time the trust is established.