When people pass away with just a will, or no estate plan at all, their families have to put the estate through a process called “probate.” Probate is a court-managed proceeding where assets are retitled and distributed according to the will or the law of intestacy (when someone passes away without a will). While most of our clients set up their estate via a living trust, which avoids this process entirely, many estates have to go through probate.

We are often asked to guide families through the probate process and we meet a lot of new clients for the first time helping them settle the estate of recently deceased family members. (These families often choose to do comprehensive planning with our firm after having gone through the process once with a loved one.)

Perhaps you are wondering what is involved in probating an estate? While every probate is different, we can provide you with a partial list of the responsibilities involved in “typical” probate.

  • Locate and file the decedent’s will (if he or she had one) with the local court
  • File necessary probate documents with the court
  • Locate, inventory, custody, close and transfer personal assets and accounts
  • Appraise and determine the value of all assets
  • Ascertain, and then notify, all known creditors of the estate
  • Make payments to creditors, discharge the decedent’s obligations and obtain creditor releases
  • Process and obtain life insurance death benefits, if any
  • Secure the decedent’s residence and tangible personal property
  • File tax returns (federal and California) and make appropriate tax elections
  • Pay estate taxes and final personal income taxes, if any
  • Obtain tax releases and closing letters from the IRS, local courts and state taxing authorities
  • Make specific bequests, together with partial and final distributions, to beneficiaries.
  • Provide detailed accounting to beneficiaries and the local court

As you can imagine, accomplishing all of this takes an enormous amount of time and can be extremely frustrating. When you factor in the grief that comes with the loss of a loved one, the process can seem overwhelming.

We can help you navigate the probate process and settle the estate as quickly and economically as possible. We will lift the burden off your shoulders, so you can focus on what is most important—coming to terms with your loss and preparing to move on with your life. Contact us today to schedule a personal meeting.

Trust Administration

Many people mistakenly believe that once they have created and funded a trust it will take effect “automatically” when the time comes. This is not the case. For a trust to carry out the wishes of the person who made it, the trust must be administered. This can involve filing the will with the California Probate Court and tax filings with the state of California and the IRS. In addition, the law requires that trust beneficiaries and others must be notified of the decedent’s passing. Other duties can include opening bank accounts, obtaining a new tax ID number, settling creditor claims, arranging for the sale of assets, paying the decedent’s final expenses, and more. Proper accounting methods must be maintained and provided to beneficiaries.

Failure to administer a trust properly can have serious legal and financial consequences for the trustee. This is why the decision to serve as trustee should not be taken lightly. If you have been asked to do so, we can explain the steps involved and the potential risks for improperly administering the trust in clear, easy-to-understand language. We can also help you select the appropriate person to serve as trustee if you decide not to accept this responsibility, and guide the trustee every step of the way. We can also work closely with your existing advisors and other personal representatives to ensure the directives of the trust are carried out appropriately.

Contact us today to to learn how we can assist you during this difficult time in your life.