Probate is the legal process in which ownership of assets are transferred from a deceased person to his or her heirs and the payment of creditors and taxes is completed. The property owned by the deceased person is called the “estate.” The person who makes a will is called a “testator.” The estate of a person who dies with a will is called a “testate estate,” and if a person dies without a will the probate estate is called an “in testate estate.” If the deceased person made a will, the will often identifies a person, referred to as an “executor” who carries out the instructions in the will for the transfer of property, which are called “bequests.”
The probate process involves several steps. In the probate process the court determines if the deceased person left a will and who will receive those assets. The court will determine if the will is valid and if there are any objections to the will. The court will supervise the notification and payment of the creditors of the deceased. The court will also approve an inventory of the estate assets, the sale or transfer of those assets and the distribution of estate assets to the heirs. Estate assets can include personal property, such as bank and retirement accounts, as well as real estate.
In California, probate is handled by the Superior Court of the county in which the deceased person lived. Probate proceedings can take at least eight months, and sometimes up to several years, to complete. Even probate cases with no unusual problems will take at least eight months, including a four-month period during which creditors can make claims. Crowded court calendars, creditor or tax claims, and will contests can all cause lengthy delays.
Claims can be filed to challenge different parts of the probate process. Claims can be filed to challenge the validity of the will, the identity of heirs, the status of the person serving as the executor and whether the executor is acting properly.