Probate Lawyers Serving San Bernardino and Riverside Counties
The attorneys at Fullerton, Lemann, Schaefer & Dominick, LLP provide legal counsel and representation to clients involved in the probate process in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties and throughout the Inland Empire Region in Southern California. For advice and representation regarding the probate of an estate, contact Fullerton, Lemann, Schaefer & Dominick, LLP to schedule a consultation.
Probate, from the Latin word probatus meaning "to prove," is the court-supervised process of proving the last will and testament of a deceased person, giving effect to the provisions of that will, and distributing the person's estate according to the terms of the will. If the decedent died without a will, their estate will be distributed in accordance with California’s intestate succession law. Probate serves to protect the instructions of the deceased, confirm who will serve as the personal representative of the estate, protect the interests of family members and others who may have claims against the estate, and protect the personal representative against claims and lawsuits.
How Does Probate Work?
The probate process begins by filing a petition with the court for an order which will:
- Determine the date and place of the decedent's death
- Appoint a personal representative of the estate
- Order probate of the decedent's will
A hearing on the petition is normally scheduled about thirty days after the petition is filed. This hearing may involve the examination of documents and testimony of witnesses, depending upon the facts of the case and whether there any challenges to the appointment of the personal representative or to the will itself.
Once the will is admitted to probate, it has been "proven" and cannot be attacked except in limited circumstances. At this point, the authenticity of the will has been proven, and the personal representative can begin the process of administering the estate. This includes an inventory and appraisal of the property to be administered, which may take up to four months or longer.
Notice is given to creditors about the administration of the estate. This notice may be given four months or more from the start of the process, and the notice itself provides the creditors with four months (or longer in some cases) within which to pursue a claim against the estate. Probate is a time-consuming process; the notice and claims period alone can stretch out the probate process to eight months or more, even without any litigated matters or disputes.
The administration of the estate may include selling property as well as borrowing or encumbering property, or even abandoning property. These matters are left to the discretion of the personal representative, who has a fiduciary duty to act with ordinary care and diligence in the best interests of the estate. If the decedent left a business, probate may involve winding up and selling the business or continuing its operation. Any debts of the estate are also paid during this process.
Once all of the assets have been marshaled and appraised, and all debts and taxes of the estate have been paid, the personal representative petitions the court for a preliminary or final distribution of the estate to the persons entitled according to the will or laws regarding intestate succession.
Challenges may arise at any time during this process, from the appointment of the personal representative to the final distribution of the estate. See our page on probate litigation for a description of the types of challenges which can arise during the administration of an estate. Contact Fullerton, Lemann, Schaefer & Dominick, LLP to schedule a consultation.