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Understanding the basics of probate in California

For Californians who are preparing for the future with an estate plan, the details can sometimes be overwhelming to the point that not even the basics are fully understood. Most everyone will have a grasp as to what a will is and does. Others will know about trusts. But probate can be a matter that is a source of confusion. Knowing what probate is and how to deal with it is an integral part of creating and implementing wise estate plan strategies.

In probate, the court will supervise the assets of the person who died being passed to the beneficiaries as listed in the will. In general, there will be an executor named in the will and that person would take the initiative after the person's death and file a petition with the court to be granted appointment. The executor will subsequently take over the person's assets and pay the debts.

Once the court has approved the person being the executor, he or she can then begin to distribute the estate to the beneficiaries listed in the will. Even if the person did not have a will, a relative can still begin the probate process. This is known as a person dying intestate. If that happens, an administrator will be appointed to deal with the estate.

There are positives and negatives with probate. The probate court will understand how to handle family disputes as there are certain rules that must be followed. The beneficiaries will be protected from any mishandling on the part of the administrator. The probate process is public meaning that the person's assets will be part of the public record and viewable to those who wish to see it. It is also generally more expensive and time-consuming than a living trust.

Estate planning and probate can be a difficult issue to think about. However, it is vital that people who are preparing for the future understand how the process works and know what their options are. A legal professional experienced in all aspects of estate planning can help with deciding the best course of action and moving forward.

Source: calbar.ca.gov, "7. What is probate?," accessed on June 27, 2017

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