Probate court delays from COVID

The COVID pandemic has resulted in delays throughout the California court system. Unfortunately, the sharp rise in Omicron cases in January has, once again, presented a challenge for California’s courts as more and more people have tested positive.  

Judges have been releasing a variety of plans to scale back some procedures due to the spike. Some are limiting the number of trials or halting them altogether, going back to virtual courtroom proceedings, and/or pushing back their calendars. 

Pandemic-related probate court delays and closures have added months to California’s probate process which was already slow prior to the pandemic, taking anywhere from eight to twelve months, longer for complicated estates. With the increase in COVID-related illness resulting in deaths due to the latest surge, the backlog in filing for probate is going to increase.

What does that mean for families trying to settle the estate of a loved one who has died from COVID or other causes? It means that the assets of a deceased individual can be tied up for longer than a year, resulting in delays in inheritances.

Speeding up the process

How long does the probate process typically take in California? According to California law, the personal representative of the estate must complete probate within one year from the date of their appointment except when federal taxes need to be filed. In these cases, the personal representative can have up to 18 months to complete the probate process.

After the deceased’s funeral, the estate’s personal representative generally follows the following timeline:

  • Files a petition with the probate court to begin the process
  • Gives notice via the mail that the estate is in probate to heirs, beneficiaries, creditors
  • Collects, inventories, and appraises all assets
  • Handles all outstanding bills and debts
  • Closes the estate

Once the petition is filed, the court will set a date for the first hearing based on the court’s availability. Provided all of the petition paperwork is in order, the judge will name the estate’s personal representative. 

Unfortunately, delays in the California court system, including probate courts, have added additional time to what is already a time-consuming process. While most counties in the state offer the option of electronic filing for probate matters, this process isn’t very “user-friendly,” so you should consider consulting with an attorney that handles probate issues and other estate planning issues.

Even more reason to get your estate plan in place

If you want to avoid probate, establish a living trust as part of your estate plan. With a living trust, you transfer your assets and property into the trust so that they’re no longer, technically-speaking, a part of your estate. You maintain control over the assets in the trust while you’re alive. The person you name as “trustee” will be responsible for managing it per your wishes for the benefit of your beneficiaries after your death.

Before creating your trust, it’s a good idea to learn about what assets can go into a trust as well as what you can’t put in a living trust.