Probate Petitions

The executor’s job can last anywhere from one to five years, depending on the assets in the estate and if any assets needs to be liquidated. The first step is for the executor to lodge the will, and file the Petition for Probate, with the probate court in the county where the deceased person lived. There is a filing fee which will depend on the County where you are filing. Some other forms may need to be filed as well, including a publication and formal notices given to interested parties. The will, if there is one, must be shown to be valid; usually this is done by having the witnesses sign a sworn statement that’s submitted to the court. When everything is in order, the court issues “Letters Testamentary” or “Letters of Administration,” appointing an executor and granting that person authority over estate assets.

Once the executor has this authority, the process of gathering the deceased person’s assets can begin. It’s also the time for the executor to get organized, set up a filing system so that benefits and bills aren’t overlooked, apply for a taxpayer ID number for the estate, and open an estate bank account. The executor will need to compile, and file with the court, an inventory and appraisal of all probate property. This may require a Probate Referee, depending on the assets in the estate.
If all this sounds overwhelming, remember that it doesn’t all have to be done at once. It does involve a lot of paperwork (and usually, phone calls), but most well-organized and conscientious people can handle it. And the executor can always get help, from family members or from an attorney who understands the process and can serve as a guide.
Most probates in California are handled under the state’s Independent Administration of Estates Act (if there is a Will), which lets the executor take care of most matters without having to get permission from the probate court. (Cal. Probate Code § 10400 and following.) The executor can usually sell estate property, pay taxes, and approve or reject claims from creditors without court supervision. Certain other acts—for example, selling real estate—require court approval.
During the probate, it’s the executor’s job to keep all assets safe. For example, a house must be insured and maintained; heirlooms must be safeguarded from theft or damage. The executor is also responsible for filing tax returns for the deceased person and for the estate.
In California, creditors have four months to come forward with their claims. Many estates don’t receive any formal claims from creditors; instead, the executor simply pays outstanding bills (for expenses of the final illness, for example). If there isn’t enough money to pay valid claims, however, state law sets out the order in which claims are to be paid from estate assets.
Finally, when all bills and taxes have been paid, the executor asks the court to close the estate. That’s when the executor can distribute all the estate assets to the people who inherit them after receiving an Order from the Court.