Probate is essentially the administration of your estate through the legal system after your death. The process provides for the transfer your estate in an organized and supervised manner. Contrary to what many people believe, the probate process applies regardless of whether you have a will or not. If you have a valid will, that document will determine how your estate is transferred during the probate process. Without a will, or if only a portion of your estate is addressed in your will, your assets will still go through probate. The laws in the state where you live will determine who gets what.
Probate in Los Angeles – The Process
There are generally two main steps involved in the probate process in Los Angeles: paying your debts and transferring your assets to your heirs or beneficiaries. The probate process is controlled by your state probate court, as such the process may vary somewhat from state to state. However, the same basic steps are followed:
- Swearing in a personal representative
- Notifying creditors, heirs, and the public
- Inventorying the property
- Distributing the estate
If you have a will and designate your personal representative in the will, that person will be in charge of your estate. The court will determine who will serve as your personal representative if you die without a will, if your will does not specify someone, or if the person you selected is unable to serve and you did not specify an alternative.
The person chosen as your personal representative will be formally appointed by the court and given the official right to handle the affairs of your estate. The court will give that person a certified document called “Letters of Administration” which authorizes him or her to act on behalf of your estate, as necessary. That person will be required to take an oath of office before being officially appointed.
The first step of the probate process occurs when your personal representative files the “Petition for Probate.” If you have a will, the probate court will issue an order admitting your will to the estate.
Notifying creditors and the public
In order to notify potential creditors of your death, your personal representative will publish a death notice in the local newspaper. This will allow anyone who believes they have an interest in your estate (including creditors) to file a claim against your estate with the probate court. Any such claims must be filed within the period of time specified by the court. To many, this part of the process is unpleasant, as it makes your private estate a matter of public record.
Inventorying your property
Your personal representative also has the duty of performing an inventory of the real and personal property that makes up your estate. This is so that the value of your estate can be determined and to ensure that all of your property can be accounted for. If, by chance, you do not have enough assets to meet your debts and the distributions to your beneficiaries, then your estate may be subject to “abatement.” This means that your beneficiaries may not receive all that you wanted them to, or they may not receive anything at all.
Distributing the estate
The final step in the probate process is the distribution of your estate property. Creditors that have valid claims will be paid in a specific order, depending on the laws of your state. Usually, estate administration costs, funeral expenses, taxes and debts will be paid first.
The remainder of your estate will be distributed to your heirs and any beneficiaries named in your will. If you died without a will, the laws of your state will determine how your property is distributed to your heirs.