How does probate work in California?

Probate is court-supervised administration of an estate.  It will require numerous court filings and at least two court hearings.  Probate is started by filing a Petition for Probate with the correct probate court so that a person can be appointed to administer the estate.  The petition packet consists of many forms that must be completed and filed with the court.  A hearing will be set for the court to hear the petition and notice must be given to known creditors and also published in a newspaper of general circulation. 

At the hearing, any objections will be given, and a personal representative (called an executor/executrix if there is a valid will; called an administrator if there is not) will be appointed by the court and takes on the duties and responsibilities of distributing the deceased person’s property to beneficiaries (if there is a will) or heirs (if there is no will).  Once appointed, the personal representative will manage all aspects of the probate estate, including inventorying assets, paying debts, responding to creditors’ claims, managing real estate or business concerns, and filing an accounting.

When all objections and creditors’ claims have been addressed, and the estate is ready to be transferred to the beneficiaries/heirs, the personal representative will file and give notice of a Petition for Final Distribution, and another hearing will be held.  If the personal representative hired an attorney to help with probate, the attorney’s compensation is set by the Probate Code and must be approved by the court, typically as part of the petition to close the estate. 

Once the Final Petition is granted, all distributions have been made and receipts filed with the court, the personal representative’s final task will be to file and give notice of a Petition for Discharge, which the court will review without a hearing.  Once this document is signed, the estate is officially closed, and the personal representative’s duties fulfilled.  The entire probate process, from first petition to last, will take approximately 18 months to 3 years for a simple estate and could be many years for a complex or contested estate.