Mourning the loss of a loved one is one of the most difficult universal experiences humans go through. The grief can be debilitating, but unfortunately surviving family members and loved ones may also have to face an unfamiliar and daunting task—managing the decedent’s estate. Estate administration is a necessary part of the estate planning process, and if you and your family are not prepared, it can be extremely challenging.

The estate administration process involves valuing, identifying, managing, and then distributing assets according to the wishes of the decedent. It can be handled by an executor (if a last will names one,) an administrator (if the deceased has no will,) or a trustee if a revocable living trust was set up. In any of the above scenarios, the person(s) administering the estate should consult and hire an estate planning attorney to assist them during the process. Effective counsel will ensure you or another person can confidently administer the estate while fulfilling the wishes of your loved one.

Estate Administration & Probate Lawyers, Ventura County CA

Handling probate or managing another’s estate can be a stressful and challenging endeavor, especially if you’re unfamiliar with California’s estate planning laws. Thankfully, the attorneys at Botti & Morison Estate Planning Attorneys, Ltd. can assist you through this trying time to ensure your loved one’s final wishes are respected throughout the entire process. They’ve been assisting individuals and families with estate administration and probate collectively for more than 90 years with a track record of happy clients to prove it.

Call Botti & Morison Estate Planning Attorneys, Ltd. today at (877) 585-1885 to get answers for your probate and estate administration needs and set up your first consultation. Botti & Morison Estate Planning Attorneys, Ltd. has offices in Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Westlake Village, Valencia, Santa Barbara, and Bakersfield, California.

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What is a Personal Representative in Estate Planning?

The legal process in California in which an estate is administered under the supervision of a court is referred to as probate. To begin the process, the court must either appoint or already have appointed a personal representative for the estate. That representative must then manage and act on behalf of the estate. If a will is involved, the representative must be named in the will and known as the “executor” of the estate.

If the deceased did not leave behind a will, then probate court must then appoint someone as an “administrator.” In most cases, the court will appoint a close family member such as a spouse, adult child of the deceased, or parent. Estate plans involving a living trust will name the “successor trustee” as the functional equivalent of a personal representative for the decedent’s estate without the need for probate.

The tasks a personal representative must complete will vary depending on the estate and whether they’re an administrator, executor, or trustee. Generally, the personal representative must ensure the estate’s property is secured and maintained until it can be distributed to the appropriate beneficiaries.

In addition to administering the probate estate, executors must also in good faith attempt to carry out the decedent’s wishes as stated in their will. Some examples include funeral and burial instructions, anatomical donations, or arrangements for the care of animals.

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How Does Probate Work in California?

The word “probate” is commonly used by many, but truly understood by very few. Essentially, it’s the process by which the court supervises the acts of the person responsible that lead to the transfer of legal title of property from the decedent’s estate to their heirs or beneficiaries. The process is different depending on whether the deceased left a will (testate) or failed to leave a will (intestate).

In order to do the following, you’ll have to fill out various forms and appear in probate court:

  • Prove to the court the will is valid
  • Appoint a personal representative with authority to act on behalf of the decedent
  • Identify and inventory the property and then have the property appraised if necessary
  • Pay all debts and taxes
  • Distribute remaining property according to the will or to the decedent’s heirs

The first step in a probate is submitting the decedent’s will so the Court can determine if it’s valid. The will must be an original document and there is generally a $400-500 filing fee. If there wasn’t a will left behind by the deceased, then a loved one of the decedent can file a petition asking for appointment as administrator. From there, the estate will be considered intestate.

Once probate court determines the will is valid and who the executor is, they will then issue a letters of administration to the executor to act on behalf of the estate. However, if the estate is intestate, then the court will appoint an administrator, but any interested parties will have the opportunity to contest the appointment if they wish to do so.

After an executor or administrator is appointed, they now have authority to act for the estate in various ways including issuing payments, taking custody or maintaining estate property, selling assets as appropriate, paying debts and taxes, and other important matters.

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The Cost of Probate in California

Estate planning experts have a long list of reasons for why you should avoid probate, and the extraordinary fees is one of them. Failure to establish a comprehensive estate plan that includes a revocable living trust will mean your family must pay various fees to probate your estate. These fees are so exorbitantly high and could end up taking a huge chunk out of your overall estate.

The State of California probates an estate based on the estate’s gross asset value. Fees that are 4% for the first $100,000 of the estate, 3% of the next $100,000, 2% of the next $800,000, 1% of the next $9,000,000, and 0.5% of the next $15,000,000. The courts will utilize their best judgement when determining a fee for estates valued larger than $250,000.

Below is a chart listing out the statutory fees for a standard probate case. These fees are utilized by the court to compensate both attorneys and executors during probate. Please note, both attorney and executor will receive a fee and the value of the fee will be double of what is shown below.

$150,000 $6,000
$200,000 $7,000
$300,000 $9,000
$400,000 $11,000
$500,000 $13,000
$600,000 $15,000
$700,000 $17,000
$800,000 $19,000
$900,000 $21,000
$1,000,000 $23,000
$2,000,000 $33,000

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Trust Administration in California

Probate can be a long and sometimes arduous process for everyone involved. In an attempt to avoid it, some families will set up a revocable living trust in addition to or instead of a traditional will. It’s become a popular tool over time to transfer some or all assets outside of probate, so families aren’t expected to show up at court and suffer from the public nature of the process.

When the trust’s grantor dies, the appointed trustee (also known as successor trustee if the grantor acted as trustee during the decedent’s lifespan) will assume a role similar to an executor or administrator of an estate. The duties of the trustee will depend on the specific instructions left behind by the grantor and whether a will is available.

In addition to avoiding probate, some other advantages to setting up a living trust in addition to a will includes:

  • Avoid the need of conservatorship if the grantor is incompetent or incapacitated
  • Offer potential tax savings
  • Continue for the benefit of your loved ones including any minor children, dependent elderly parents, adult children with drug/alcohol issues, or children with special needs or development disadvantages

Although a will isn’t required, most lawyers would recommend you have one in addition to a living trust. The will can serve as a safety net to “pour” assets into your trust in case the decedent forgot to add the asset. The will may also provide instructions for care of minor children or any other dependents the decedent may have.

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Additional Resources

California Probate & Estate Administration Law – Visit the official website for the California Legislative Information regarding probate law and estate administration. Access the site to learn more about probate and estate planning including protective proceedings, health care decisions, powers of attorney, nonprobate transfers, trust law, and more.

Diagram of the Probate Process – Visit the official website for the Superior Court of California for Santa Clara County to learn more about the probate process in California. Access the site to learn more about the steps to probate, what documents must be filed, how long probate takes, and other information about estate administration.

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Ventura Probate Administration Lawyer, CA

The experienced California estate administration lawyers at Botti & Morison Estate Planning Attorneys, Ltd. have provided assistance to countless successor trustees, executors, and administrators in the state of California. They are available to assist you, family members or friends who may be facing the task of carrying out an estate plan. We can provide the guidance and the honesty you need to ensure your loved one’s wishes are carried out properly.

Call Botti & Morison Estate Planning Attorneys, Ltd. today at (877) 585-1885 to set up your first consultation free of charge. Botti & Morison Estate Planning Attorneys, Ltd. is located throughout the state of California including Ventura County, Kern County, San Luis Obispo County, Los Angeles County, and Santa Barbara County.