Probate in California can be expensive and time-consuming. But if an estate is of relatively modest size, a full estate administration proceeding may not be required. Under California's Probate Code, simplified proceedings are available for smaller estates.
Probate refers to the court-supervised process of distributing a person's assets after they have died. In California, the probate court handles cases in which a person died "testate," or with a will, or "intestate," without a will. If the person left a will, their property is distributed according to the terms of the will. The process is overseen by the executor named in the will. If the person died without a will, their property is distributed to surviving relatives under the California intestacy statute; the process is overseen by an administrator appointed by the court.
In California most wills go through probate proceedings without a significant dispute. Similarly, most trusts are administered without any controversy. But occasionally a conflict arises among family members, between family members and an executor or between family members and trustees. When this happens it is critical for a party to the dispute to knowledgeably assert their rights under the law.
Many people in California depend on Medi-Cal for their health care coverage. When a Medi-Cal recipient dies, the state has the legal right to recover from the recipient's estate the medical expenses made on their behalf. The state cannot seek reimbursement, however, if the Medi-Cal recipient left a surviving spouse or a minor, disabled or blind child.
Virtually all wills include a provision naming the person who will serve as executor of the estate. The executor is the person chosen by the testator to administer the estate, pay estate debts and taxes and distribute the assets according to the instructions in the will. Wills commonly name one or more alternate executors, in case the first person named is unable or unwilling to serve.
We've probably all heard of tragic situations in which a husband and wife are both killed in an auto accident or a plane crash. This can create estate administration issues if it cannot be established which of them died first. Fortunately, the California Probate Code has provisions addressing this situation.
When people undertake the estate planning process in California, they tend to focus on the major assets: the house, other real estate, bank accounts and investments. Too often they overlook the things they own that have little monetary value but a lot of sentimental value. Things like a mother's wedding ring or an old family portrait should be addressed in one's estate plan in order to avoid unnecessary conflict with heirs.
When a parent of adult children remarries, it often creates friction between the children from the former marriage and the new spouse. When the parent dies, that friction can boil over into bitter disputes over the parent's estate. This appears to be what has happened with the family of a multimillionaire vitamin entrepreneur who died last year at the age of 80. Recently, judges in California and Nevada issued separate rulings that significantly weakened the claims of the entrepreneur's children and grandchildren.
An estate plan is a written instrument used by individuals in California and elsewhere to pass their assets and property to their heirs and beneficiaries. In order for these assets to be transferred after the person's death, the probate process will need to be initiated. This legal process considers the contents of the deceased's estate, sorting through their personal affairs. A will is generally used to dictate how property and assets will be transferred, however, even when a will is available, the probate process could become rather complex and lengthy.
Unfortunately, when a resident of Northern California dies, it is sometimes unclear whether they left a will, or which of several purported wills is valid. The result can be a court battle similar to one now taking place in New York over the estate of a man who died at the age of 97 and left an estate estimated at $29 million.