Almost everyone has a general idea of what an attorney does, but few know why a probate attorney matters so much to family finances. The court steps in to supervise the process of settling an estate when someone dies. At Avian Law Group, our experienced lawyers can assure bereaved families of the attentive handling of sensitive matters when a loved one dies.
The law governs the process of distributing the assets of a deceased person through the administration of a will when available or without it when necessary. An estate planning attorney can ensure that everyone has a will, regardless of the size of an estate, making the probate process much more manageable.
The law affects every aspect of the process and guides the distribution of financial investments, bank accounts and real estate holdings of the person who died.
An experienced lawyer can manage the complicated and detailed process that stresses anyone untrained in the law. Frequent courtroom attendance, lack of knowledge of regulations and the need to complete an extensive number of detailed forms create serious reasons to hire an experienced lawyer to handle legal issues.
The deadlines, court requirements and timelines required in California law can add significantly to the stress that bereaved families endure. Contested arguments and responses, due dates for petitions, creditor claims and deadlines for inventories and appraisals can require knowledge that discourages anyone unfamiliar with court procedures. The California Code specifies many more time-sensitive compliance measures that a trained lawyer can handle effectively.
Prompt attention to hiring a skilled professional can prevent problems from developing with heirs, creditors and governmental agencies. Working with a deceased person’s representative, a lawyer may need to perform these tasks among others:
• Facilitating payment of bills and debts
• Determining the existence of estate, income or inheritance taxes
• Management of estate checking and savings accounts
• Meeting court requirements for documentation
• Identification of estate assets and obtaining appraisals
• Obtaining life insurance and retirement plan payouts
• Disbursing remaining assets to beneficiaries
A probate attorney can help families achieve peace of mind, knowing that a loved one’s affairs receive the attention and guidance they deserve. In addition, the awareness of potential problems in the legal procedure that a skilled professional provides can prevent delays that extend a lengthy and time-consuming process. Expertise in avoiding legal pitfalls and complying with all court requirements can help prevent families from suffering undue stress after losing a loved one.
The detailed and complicated process can require months or years to complete. However, the deadlines that exist within the process do not change, and they require strict adherence. Dealing with the complexities of the law can prove difficult when emotions affect people profoundly at the death of a loved one. Families can become estranged and have difficulty maintaining relationships during a highly stressful time.
1. Find Representation
A probate attorney helps clients avoid mistakes that cost time and money. In addition, a lengthy and complicated process that may take a year or two puts burdens on families. A skilled lawyer can help prevent stress with compassionate guidance and advice.
2. File a Petition
The process of starting probate proceedings begins with a petition to the California Superior Court in the county where the deceased lived until death. Filing a petition causes the court to respond by scheduling a hearing. The time frame for the hearing usually takes about 30 days.
3. Handle Notices
After an attorney files a petition with the court, notification of the hearing occurs in several ways. First, a notice of hearing must appear at least three times in a local newspaper. In addition, everyone who has a specific interest in the case must receive a notification. Therefore, every person whose name appears in a will (when one exists) and the deceased person’s legal heirs need to receive a mailed copy. In addition, potential creditors must receive notification as well.
4. Prove the Will
When a will exists, it must undergo a process to prove it unless it can qualify as a self-proving will. The language in some wills can make the proving process unnecessary. In some cases, an affidavit from all signatories to the will can serve the same purpose. The state has rules about the validity of self-proving wills that lawyers use as guidelines. California accepts a will as proven and admissible when it contains the proper language and presents legal arrangements.
5. Collect Assets
Some of a deceased person’s assets may lie within the purview of probate, but others may not. A lawyer can work with the deceased’s personal representative to take possession of all assets and transfer the title of those that need it into another person’s name. Estate planning instruments may prevent the need to go through the process in some cases. Some of the deceased assets that may need a title change include these:
• Bank accounts
• Brokerage accounts
• Business interests
• Credit Union accounts
• Items of sentimental value
• Motor vehicles
• Mutual Funds
• Real estate
• Stocks and bonds
While some items may have little financial value, the proper disposition of them can ease the concerns of family members. An appraisal can determine the value of certain properties in a deceased person’s estate, and the court may require it. In addition, the court usually determines the need for an inventory of an estate as necessary.
6. Pay Creditors
The obligation to pay debts to creditors exists after death, and the deceased person’s representative has an obligation to pay them. After creditors receive the notice of death from the representative, they must submit a claim to the estate for payment. No distribution of assets from the estate can occur until creditors receive payment for all valid bills and claims, including end-of-life expenses and funeral arrangements. The timeliness requirements that the state imposes requires creditors to act responsively. The law allows a period of four months after an estate appoints a personal representative for creditors to submit claims for payment.
7. Pay Estate Tax
A lawyer can help the estate’s representative ensure the payment of all estate taxes, a requirement that the state imposes in addition to federal estate taxes. The duty to pay taxes can put a financial burden on the estate’s representative in case of default which may occur under certain circumstances. For example, if the estate distributed its assets before paying taxes and has no funds available to pay them, the responsibility may fall to the representative. Typically, however, the representative does not have a personal liability to pay estate taxes.
8. Close the Estate
At the end of a year or two, the complicated and exacting process comes to an end with the closing of an estate. As a finalization of the steps that came before, it provides a final accounting of the personal representative’s actions on behalf of the estate. Part of the closing process includes a petition that gets filed with the court. It contains a summary of the estate and the actions the state took in the process. In addition, the petition enumerates any fees that the representative receives. Fees paid to an estate attorney appear in the petition as well.
The court reviews the document and approves the accounting in the absence of any objections before entering an order to close the estate. After the court’s final action on the case, the personal representative has permission to pay any remaining fees and disburse the balance of assets to heirs and beneficiaries.
Our team of skilled and experienced lawyers can guide bereaved family members through one of life’s most emotionally trying times. Suffering the loss of a beloved person deserves the understanding and empathy that we know provides the care that everyone needs during sad times. Our estate planning team can prepare families for financial matters that occur, and our probate attorneys have expertise in handling the process. We offer a free consultation, and we welcome calls to our office at 888 465 0540 to schedule an appointment.