How long can probate last in California?

Probate is the court process of administering a deceased person’s estate. It involves:

  • Authenticating the deceased’s will
  • Determining the deceased’s beneficiaries
  • Determining the value of the deceased’s assets and property 
  • Taking care of any outstanding financial responsibilities of the deceased
  • Distributing the assets to the deceased’s beneficiaries

If the deceased had their assets in a living trust, those assets can be transferred to the beneficiaries named in the trust without having to go through probate. 

If the deceased passed without a trust, but had a will, their executor is charged with the responsibility of collecting the assets, paying all debts and expenses, and then distributing what’s left of the estate to the beneficiaries. If there is no will, an administrator is appointed by the court as the estate’s personal representative and has the same responsibilities as those outlined above. Both of these scenarios are done under court supervision.

According to California law the personal administrator of an estate must complete the probate process within one year from the date of their appointment, unless required to file a federal estate tax. In these types of situations, the maximum length of probate is 18 months.

Why the process takes so long

Why is the probate process so time-intensive? First of all, the executor or court-appointed administrator is required by law to wait until after the deceased’s funeral to begin the process. Once the process is started, the administrator is responsible for locating all the assets of the deceased, securing those assets, contacting the creditors of the deceased, and assuring the deceased was current on their tax responsibilities.

This is time-consuming and laborious, each of the steps involving a lot of paperwork and documentation. In addition, there are a number of situations that delay probate, including:

  • The number of beneficiaries
  • Problems with the will
  • No will
  • The estate owes taxes to the IRS
  • Confusion over the handling of unusual assets

If the estate owes taxes, paperwork needs to be filed with the IRS, and the agency needs to respond before the estate can be closed. This process can add an additional six to eight months to the process. In cases such as these, the probate process can take the full 18 months allowed by California law.

For the majority of executors, especially those that are responsible for settling a complicated estate, the best course of action is to get legal guidance by hiring an attorney that specializes in estate planning.

What type of attorney do you need?

You can save your family the time, hassle, and stress of going through probate when you die by setting up a living trust. Living trusts are estate planning vehicles which you create during your lifetime into which all of your assets will be transferred to bypass probate

Whether you need an attorney for probate court or an attorney to help create a living trust, our family firm serves San Diego County and is here for you.