Probate Law in LA County
Determine the distribution of a loved one’s legacy.
Dealing with the courts and the property of someone who has passed is complicated. This is a time for compassionate, experienced representation to make sure that the details and the big picture come together for the greatest benefit of those left behind.
As your probate lawyer, I will advise estate executors/administrators and beneficiaries on how to settle all of the final affairs of a deceased person, and represent you through the probate process.
An Overview of the Probate Process Step by Step
The first step in the estate settlement process is to determine whether the deceased left a will. Unless there is a living trust, the estate must be probated even if there is no will. If you can’t locate a will and if the deceased had no other estate plan such as a trust, the estate is said to be “intestate.”
Opening the estate with the court is the next step. The court will schedule a brief hearing, appointing an executor/administrator of the estate. Any friend or family member can apply to the court to open an estate when there is no will, but this doesn’t mean automatic appointment as administrator when the estate is intestate. Surviving spouses are typically the executor, followed by adult children, parents, and siblings.
The executor’s first responsibility is to locate and identify the decedent’s assets. This involves a thorough review of all the deceased’s personal papers and bank account statements. The executor takes possession of all this paperwork, as well as the income tax returns for the last three years.
The next step in the estate settlement process is to establish date-of-death values for the decedent’s assets. Assets such as real estate and personal effects must often be professionally appraised.
The executor must also pay any income taxes and estate taxes that might be due. This includes preparing and filing the decedent’s final federal and state personal income tax returns.
The executor or administrator must next take care of paying the decedent’s final bills as well as the ongoing expenses of administering the estate. These expenses can include legal fees, accounting fees, utilities, insurance premiums, and mortgage payments.
Distribution of the estate’s assets to the beneficiaries is the very last step in the estate settlement process. The executor will submit an accounting to the probate court judge, detailing all financial transactions made on behalf of the estate. Assuming everything is in order, the judge will issue an order allowing the executor to close the estate and transfer the assets to the beneficiaries under the terms of his will.
If there is no will, the property will pass to immediate family members in a prescribed order known as “intestate succession.” The surviving spouse is the first in line followed by the children. Other family members typically only inherit by intestate succession if no spouse or children survive the deceased. If no one claims the assets, your property will go to the State.
The probate process can be time consuming, costly (filing fees) and complex. It is important to have support you can depend on for representation at a time when you need it most
Communications with beneficiaries and creditors
File a petition to start Probate
Provide notice of the proceedings
Keep track of important dates including:
Cut off for creditors to submit formal claims
Final probate hearing
Close Probate and discharge the petitioner’s duties
Limited-Scope Representation/Unbundled Services