Probate court is primarily recognized for overseeing settlement proceedings of decedents’ estates. However, this court also handles legal issues pertaining to minor aged children, the elderly, and individuals with psychiatric or intellectual disabilities.
The role of probate court is to protect the rights of individuals and ensure probate laws are followed during estate reconciliation. Although probated estates can be settled without hiring a lawyer, most people find the process confusing and overwhelming and prefer to work with a law firm.
Probate is required to ensure decedents’ Wills are valid and to record transfer of property to designated beneficiaries. There are two types of probate processes. When a Will is recorded with the court it is known as testate. If a Will is not provided, the process is referred to as intestate.
Testate estates can be processed more quickly because the Will supplies directives regarding how assets should be divided.
Intestate estates require extra time because no information is provided. Instead, heirs will have to provide documentation to the court and assets are divided according to state law.
When individuals die without a Will their loved ones will have to endure a long and expensive process before they can receive inheritance gifts. Along with hiring a probate lawyer, heirs might also need assistance from appraisers and accountants.
In order to settle intestate estates, family members must appear in probate court to open a case and appoint a personal representative. Individuals are prohibited from taking any action until the representative has received court confirmation.
In the case of testate estates, the personal representative is identified in the Will. The settlement process is easier because decedents provide information regarding their property and who should receive it.
With intestate estates, assets are transferred in accordance with probate law. This is generally the surviving spouse, parents, or children. Assets included with testate estates transfer to beneficiaries identified in the last will and testament.
When estates pass through probate there is potential for heirs to contest the Will. If legal litigation is required the probate process can be suspended for years. All assets are frozen until the case is decided by a judge.
One option to ease estate settlement burdens is to establish trusts. All property held in family trusts is exempt from probate and can be passed along to beneficiaries quickly. Living trusts are the most commonly used, but there are numerous others including revocable, irrevocable, family, and children’s trust funds.
It’s recommended to work with an estate planning law firm to ensure trusts are properly funded. Trusts include other legal documents that can protect assets during your lifetime as well as after death. These include a will and testament, durable power of attorney, and healthcare proxy.
Settling probate estates can be a cumbersome process that depletes assets intended for heirs. Intestate estates can cause problems that last for years. It’s imperative to engage in estate planning so you don’t leave a mess for your loved ones to deal with.
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If you are in need of a California estate attorney we hope you will consider Craton and Switzer. Click here to send an email or call us during weekdays at 562-628-5533 between the hours of 8:30am-5pm.