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What Is Probate?

Probate is the legal process of identifying a deceased person’s assets, paying their outstanding debts, and distributing their assets to heirs or beneficiaries. This process involves a court proceeding and can take a few months to a few years to complete. In order to distribute assets named in a will, a probate process is necessary. However, this doesn’t mean that the next steps are always straightforward for those involved. The probate process is notoriously lengthy and potentially confusing, making it vital that you have a professional on your side to help you avoid it.

Using a trust to plan your estate can help avoid the probate process.  The Sandoval Legacy Group team can minimize the confusion and heartache associated with probate, whether your loved one is already in the process or not so that your loved one’s affairs are handled efficiently and with the peace of mind your family deserves when dealing with probate.

The settlement of a deceased person’s probate estate or trust estate and the distribution of their assets may require the California probate court to intervene for various reasons. For example, there may be disputes about a will’s validity or disagreements between family members regarding its distribution. 

Disputes about a will or trust are handled in probate court by an experienced estate probate attorney. This way, you can rest assured that you have someone to fight for your inheritance.

The Purpose of Probate Is To:

  • Determine if a valid Last Will and Testament of the decedent exists,
  • Inventory all assets that make up the “estate” of the decedent,
  • Appraise the estate,
  • Ascertain and, if possible, pay all debts of the decedent,
  • Determine the beneficiaries of the estate, and
  • Distribute the remainder of the estate to the beneficiaries.
Probate | Sandoval Legacy Group

With Will Vs. Without Will

The steps following a loved one’s passing can vary greatly depending on whether there is an active will in place. Additionally, the probate process can look different for everyone. If a Will exists, the Will is docketed with the court, a petition for probate of the estate is filed with the court, and the court is requested to approve the appointment of the executor designated under the Will.

If no Will exists, a petition for administration of the estate is filed with the court. The petition nominates an administrator of the estate, usually a relative of the decedent, for approval by the court.

Does Having a Will Avoid Probate?

No, unfortunately. This is another common misperception. Unless your estate qualifies for one of the procedures outlined below, if you have a Will, your assets must be probated. One reason for this is that part of the probate process is to make sure the Will is a valid Will. Using a Will as the central document of an estate plan virtually assures the person’s estate will need probate after death. Still, with proper planning, there are ways to avoid probate

Steps to Avoid Probate

You can take many legal steps now to avoid probate in California by transferring ownership of your assets. Each of these strategies has its advantages and disadvantages, so make sure that you consult a qualified probate attorney for advice on how to proceed. Sandoval Legacy Group offers free consultations with one of our estate probate attorneys. As such, you can always reach out to us online to learn more about all of these strategies. Here are a few to consider:

  • Joint Tenancy Custodial Accounts
  • Payable on Death / Transfer on Death / In Trust For Accounts
  • Beneficiary Designation
  • Revocable Living Trusts
  • Various types of Irrevocable Trusts

Who Is The Beneficiary of The Estate?

If the decedent died with a valid Will, then the beneficiaries would be the persons designated in the Will. If the decedent died without a Will, the court determines who the beneficiaries are based on California law. The law of intestacy is complicated, and sometimes the beneficiaries are not who you think they might be. NOTE: Sometimes beneficiaries want to refuse their inheritance in favor of another person. This is known as a Disclaimer. A person disclaiming his or her inheritance CANNOT direct who will receive the inheritance. Legal counsel should be consulted before executing any disclaimers or assignments of interests in the estate.

Probate Administration vs. Probate Litigation

Probate litigation occurs whenever disagreements, disputes, or challenges regarding any aspect of the probate process occurs. Whenever a family settles the affairs of a deceased loved one, there are numerous possibilities that can create estate disputes. Heirs may argue over the disposition of the deceased person’s estate assets. A family member may find themselves at odds with the estate’s executor or administrator. No matter the cause, though, your inheritance could be changed or removed altogether. Because of this, you should always go into a dispute with a legal professional by your side.

If your inheritance is at risk, you need the help of an experienced estate and trust litigation attorney. Our Southern California probate litigation team’s training and experience in estate planning, wills, trusts, and civil litigation law, coupled with their courtroom skills and experience are used to meet our clients’ probate and trust litigation needs.


How Long Does a The Probate Process Take in California?

It is a common concern among beneficiaries that the probate process will take longer than expected. Unfortunately, this worry can often turn out to be true. The probate process can be extremely costly and time consuming, often taking a year or more to complete. Because of time delays between the time of filing documents with the court and the hearing related to the subject matter of those documents, a probate administration handled by Sandoval Legacy Group will take a minimum of eight months to one year to go from initial filing to approval of the Final Report and distribution of assets to beneficiaries. A typical probate handled by other attorneys or persons representing himself or herself (pro per) takes longer, usually between eighteen months and two years.

In addition to being composed of a large number of statutes, California probate law is also influenced by prior court cases at the national and state levels. Our goal as an experienced probate lawyer is to minimize litigation whenever possible. Because there are many codes and cases, as well as new and updated laws, it is best to hire a lawyer who exclusively practices probate laws in California rather than a general practitioner.

Fun Fact: The longest probate in U.S. history, the probate of Marilyn Monroe’s estate, took over eighteen years to go from start to finish.

How Much Does Probate Cost In California?

Probate costs can vary, depending on whether you administer the estate all by yourself, with some paralegal assistance, or choose to work with a probate lawyer who will do everything for you. Probate attorney fees are set by statute in California and vary according to the value of the estate. California statutory attorney and executor fees are calculated based on the gross value, not the net estate.

If the probate is more complicated, there is a possibility the attorney and executor / administrator could get paid “extraordinary fees” on top of the statutory fees for services rendered beyond what is normally required in a probate administration (such as the sale of a business or real property or the preparation of an estate tax return). In addition to these fees, there are filing fees, publication fees, probate referee (court appointed appraiser) fees, and certification costs. The statutory fees are based on the value of the gross estate. An example of the typical fees and costs for an estate consisting of a residence valued at $300,000 and $200,000 of various bank accounts and investments (for a total value of $500,000) follows:

Types of Fees and CostsAmount
Statutory Executive Fees$13,000
Statutory Attorney Fees$13,000
Filings Fees$500
Publication Costs$500
Probate Referee Fees$500
Certification and Miscellaneous Fees$100
Typical Total Costs$27,600

California statutory attorney and executor fees are calculated based on the gross value, not the net estate. Therefore, the statutory attorney fees to probate a $500,000 estate with no debt are the same as the statutory probate fees to probate a $500,000 estate with $400,000 of debt, even though there is only $100,000 of net estate available for potential distribution in the latter example

The statutory attorney and executor fees are calculated as follows:

  • 4% of the first $100,000 of the gross value of the probate estate
  • 3% of the next $100,000
  • 2% of the next $800,000
  • 1% of the next $9 million
  • .5% of the next $15 million
  • A reasonable amount (determined by the court) for any amounts higher than $25 million

Consult with your attorney about whether extraordinary fees are anticipated in your case.

Methods to Avoid Probate

Fortunately, with the right techniques, you can avoid probate court and get your inheritance much sooner. There are many planning vehicles that can be used to avoid a probate administration. But there are advantages and disadvantages to each of these strategies, making it vital that you consider each carefully. You can learn more about all of these strategies by attending one of our free estate planning seminars or by scheduling a free consultation with one of our law firm’s estate planning attorneys. Several popular alternatives include:

  • Joint Tenancy Custodial Accounts
  • Payable on Death / Transfer on Death / In Trust For Accounts
  • Beneficiary Designation
  • Revocable Living Trusts
  • Various types of Irrevocable Trusts

Why Should I Hire an Attorney?

If you were to listen to the hearings before a probate judge most days, one of the most common things you would hear the judge say is a recommendation that the executor/administrator who is representing himself or herself consider hiring an attorney. Experienced probate attorneys can often save the estate money and time. This is because most people who try to handle a probate on their own will suffer numerous continued hearings while they try to address the deficiencies pointed out by the probate court. If the case is continued too many times, the judge may issue a monetary sanction or suspend or remove the executor/administrator.

An experienced probate attorney can head off these delays and sanctions by either having the correct paperwork submitted at the start or by quickly addressing any deficiencies and can often negotiate a reduction in the claims filed by creditors, possibly saving the estate thousands or even tens of thousands in payments. A probate attorney, working with an experienced Realtor, can also minimize delays in closing the sale and may be able to help with maximizing the sales price and minimizing the sales costs. A knowledgeable probate attorney with a tax background can often suggest ways to save on income taxes and property tax issues. All this makes for the beneficiaries receiving their inheritance as quickly as possible and often in a greater amount than if the executor or administrator handled the probate by himself or herself.

Taking care of your family for the present and the future requires proper estate planning

When it comes to the planning process, including probate avoidance strategies in your overall estate plan is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your family. Along with keeping the details of your estate private and increasing the net value of the estate you pass down to your loved ones, creating an estate plan that avoids probate also spares them the additional stress and grief that typically accompanies a long, drawn-out probate process.

How Sandoval Legacy Group Can Help You

Sandoval Legacy Group is one of the most experienced probate and estate planning law firms in California. Its managing partner, Dennis M. Sandoval, is the only attorney in California with specialist certifications in the three areas of: Estate Planning, Trust and Probate Law; Taxation Law and Elder Law.

We understand that the estate planning process plays a vital role in your life and how important it is to you and your loved ones. We are committed to keeping you informed. Throughout every step of the representation, we ensure proactive communication with our clients. When someone you love passes away, you most likely already have more than enough to deal with, including planning services, contacting family and friends, and grieving your loss. At this point, the last thing you need to worry about is managing a confusing and stressful legal process. Regardless of how difficult it may be, you should contact a probate attorney right away.

Contact us today at (888) 306-5699 or contact us online to learn more about how your estate can avoid probate. Sandoval Legacy Group now has offices located across Southern California, including Riverside, Orange, San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Bernardino County, with hours designed to accommodate busy work schedules and life events.

Download Our Free Comprehensive Probate 101 eBook:

What is covered:

  • The basic facts of the Probate Process and how to use it
  • The steps and costs to administer a Probate Case
  • Using an attorney
  • The role of the person in charge of the Probate … and if they need insurance to protect themselves
  • The bills, taxes, and debts of a deceased person
  • Assets and how to divide them
  • Heirs, Inheritance, and Property Taxes
  • If the deceased person’s affairs remain private or go public
  • If court proceedings are necessary
  • Probate Process Timeline/Flow Chart

To speak with one of our highly skilled probate attorneys in Riverside County, Orange County, San Diego County, San Bernardino, or Los Angeles county, contact us today or call Sandoval Legacy Group at (888) 502-2881

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With office locations throughout Southern California, Sandoval Legacy Group, a division of Holstrom, Block & Parke, offers comprehensive and personalized estate planning, special needs planning, trust administration, probate, and conservatorships expert services in Riverside County, San Bernardino County, Orange County, San Diego County, and Los Angeles County.

Why Choose Us?


Estate Planning

A comprehensive approach to estate planning that preserves your family’s legacy and wealth based on your individual circumstances.

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Elder Law

Prepare for the unexpected by obtaining a medical power of attorney, healthcare directives, and eldercare options.

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Please contact us if you need representation in probate court, or if you wish to avoid probate court altogether. Incorporating probate avoidance strategies into your overall estate plan is one of the greatest gifts you can leave your loved ones.

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Special Needs Trusts

In addition to being members of the Special Needs Alliance and the Academy of Special Needs Planners, our law firm can also advise you regarding the intricacies of administering a Special Needs Trust.

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