Self-Help and the California Court

The California Courts has a very informative website.  The section discussing probate, estates and wills is the most interesting and very comprehensive.

For example, the website begins the discussion on wills, estates and probate by stating in part:

“Losing a loved one is a sad and difficult time for family, relatives, and friends. In addition, those left behind must often figure out how to transfer or inherit property from the person who has died.

“To do this, you must usually go to court. And dealing with the courts and the property of someone who has died is very complicated. Sometimes, however, family or relatives may be able to transfer property from someone who has died without going to court. But it is not always easy to tell whether you need to go to court or qualify to use a different procedure.

“This section will give you some general information to help you understand what your choices may be, but we still encourage you to talk to a lawyer to get specific answers about your situation. You can usually pay the lawyer’s fees from the property in the case.”

With this introduction, the California Courts website explores topics such as:

  • What is probate?
  • Steps To Take If the Case Belongs in Probate Court
  • Deciding If You Need to Go to Probate Court and Whether You Can Use Simplified Procedures
  • If the Person Who Died Left MORE Than $150,000
  • If the Person Who Died Left $150,000 or LESS
  • If You Were Married to or Were a Registered Domestic Partner of the Person Who Died

Its discussion about probate is especially well done.  It says:

After a probate case is filed:

  • The probate clerk sets a hearing date.
  • The petitioner must give notice of the hearing to anyone who may have the right to get some part of the estate, plus the surviving family members even if there is a will and they are not named in it. Any person who is interested in the court case may file a Request for Special Notice (Form DE-154), which means that they must receive a copy of paperwork filed by the person who is chosen to manage the estate.
  • The petitioner CANNOT mail the notice. It must be mailed by any other adult who is not a party to the case.
  • The petitioner must arrange for notice to be published in a newspaper of general circulation.
  • A court probate examiner reviews the case before the hearing to see if it was done correctly.
  • Once all the paperwork has been reviewed by the examiner and corrected, if necessary, the judge decides who to appoint to be in charge as the personal representative of the estate (also called the “administrator” or “executor”).
  • The personal representative gathers up the assets and prepares an Inventory and Appraisal (Form DE-160) to be filed.  The personal representative usually will also need to contact a probate referee to value the nonmonetary assets. Find the contact information for a probate referee in your county. (Get more information on probate referees.)
  • The personal representative provides formal notice to creditors with the Notice of Administration to Creditors (Form DE-157) and pays the debts.
  • A final personal income tax return is prepared for the person who died.
  • The probate court figures out who gets what property.
  • Report of Sale and Petition for Order Confirming Sale of Real Property (Form DE-260) is filed with the court so that sales of real property are confirmed by the court.
  • If the estate earned any money (such as interest or profit in a sale), the personal representative will have to submit a final estate tax return.
  • The personal representative reports to the court on how the estate was handled. This report is a final plan and accounting. The report is scheduled for hearing so the judge can review how the personal representative handled everything. The judge needs to be satisfied that everything has been properly taken care of.
  • After filing with the court any required final receipts to show that everyone received their property from the estate, the court discharges the personal representative from his or her duties.

The website has additional useful information on probate, wills, trusts and estates that include topics like:

  • What is probate?
  • Do I Need Estate Planning?
  • Statutory Will Form
  • Do I Need a Living Trust?
  • Transfer a vehicle without probate
  • Affidavit for Transfer Without Probate
  • San Francisco Law Library’s Research Guide
  • Sacramento County Public Law Library Legal Resource Guide
  • California Public Law Libraries