Do I Need a Probate Lawyer In California?

Question: I live in California and my mother just passed away. Do I need a lawyer to go through probate?

Good question. Here is a detailed answer from on that very topic.

If you have recently lost a loved one, and have been named as an executor or executrix of the estate in California, you likely have many questions about how to handle probate: What is probate, exactly? How do assets owned by the estate get distributed? What happens to debts owed by the deceased? And how long will probate take?

Though the probate process in California can be complicated—and can vary depending on the types of assets owned by the deceased—as the California Courts website clarifies, probate is simply the legal process through which an executor administers an estate and distributes assets to beneficiaries.

If you are currently the executor of an estate, you might be wondering, “Why do I need a lawyer?” The short answer is that the California probate process can be complicated, and it is important to have an experienced California probate lawyer on your side to ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible. To better understand how an attorney can assist you, we have provided a brief overview of the probate process below.

Probate Overview in California

Now that you understand a little bit more about what the probate process entails, how will you know who will be administering the estate? When there is an executor named in the will, that person will administer the estate; if there is no will, then the court will appoint an administrator. The executor typically will handle the following:

  • Dealing with the financial responsibilities of the deceased, including paying remaining debts and funeral expenses
  • Transferring or distributing the deceased’s property to the named beneficiaries

The California Courts website suggests that a typical case takes anywhere from nine to eighteen months. But, in some cases, probate can last even longer.

Why You May Need a Lawyer

While it may be possible to go through the probate process without an attorney, it is important to ensure that all steps of the probate process are completed according to California law. An experienced probate lawyer can help you to determine whether probate is necessary, and whether or not there are certain assets that may be excepted from the probate process.

Depending upon the size of the estate, and the types of property owned by the deceased, you may not need to go through the probate process. Generally speaking, if the value of the estate is less than $150,000, you may not have to go to court. Also, if the deceased’s property is jointly owned (by a spouse, for example), then that property may not need to go through the probate process. There are also other ways to transfer certain types of property in order to avoid probate, and an experienced California lawyer can speak with you about estate planning options.

Ronald W. Ask, since passing the California State Bar Exam in 1981, has had a long history of serving the Riverside and San Bernardino County communities in many types of law, but particularly in the areas of wills, trusts and estate planning, Medi-Cal eligibility qualifying coupled with asset protection, conservatorships, probate, will contests, trust administration and trust litigation.

Mr. Ask has been a bankruptcy law practitioner since 1982, as well and is a member of The State Bar of California and The National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys

For several years, beginning in 1993 and continuing on into 1998, Mr. Ask spoke to groups at many senior centers and other public forums on a regular basis. He has been a guest speaker at the University of California, Riverside, on occasions where panels of persons in the legal community have been scheduled for discussions for the benefit of pre-law students. Mr. Ask has also been invited as a guest lecturer at Riverside Community College on subjects such as Probate and Estate Planning and on Consumer Bankruptcy.

He has also appeared as a “talking head” on Los Angeles based network news and on Coachella Valley Television News on issues such as Advance Health Care Directives and Adoption.