Probate is a court-supervised process of administering a deceased person's estate. This generally involves ensuring that all of the decedent's debts and taxes are paid and distributing assets as provided in the decedent's will. If the decedent did not leave a will, then assets will be distributed to the decedent's "intestate heirs" as specified by California law.
When a probate proceeding is initiated, the court will appoint an executor or other personal representative who will have the authority and responsibility to administer the estate.
From beginning to end, the probate process takes a minimum of about 6-8 months. It is very common for probate to last 12-18 months, and in some cases the process can drag on for years.
Most costs of probate (including court fees, appraiser fees, executor and attorney compensation, etc.) are set by state law. Total costs will typically be around 5-6% of the value of the estate.
Avoiding probate is generally one of the basic objectives of estate planning.
Trusts are the most common and flexible way of avoiding probate in California. Administering a trust following a person's death is usually less time-consuming and costly than going through probate, and it is generally done privately rather than through a public proceeding. However, there is still important work that must be done and expenses that will be incurred. In addition, the same factors that can keep a probate open for years (e.g., disputes about the validity of a person's estate planning documents, dealing with complex assets or tax situations, etc.) can force an equally long trust administration process.
The fundamental job of the trustee is, not surprisingly, to carry out the terms of the trust. More specifically, the role of the trustee is to take title to and possession of trust assets, manage the assets for the benefit of the trust beneficiaries, and eventually distribute the assets as specified in the trust.
The actual work required in a trust administration can vary greatly, depending on the circumstances (e.g., does the administration involve a married couple's joint trust following the death of the first spouse to die?); the number, nature and value of different trust assets; and the specific terms of the trust.
Whether a trustee is faced with a relatively simple or complex administration, there are some critical do's and don'ts; and the personal consequences to the trustee of handling things improperly can be significant. We do everything we can to make it as easy as possible for trustees to understand and fulfill their important fiduciary responsibilities.