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What are the steps in a California probate case?

Not all families and heirs must go through probate in California, so understanding whether or not probate is required in your case is the first step in estate administration. If you determine that probate is required, the California courts provide a series of steps for the process.

First, within 30 days of death, the will custodian must take the original document to probate court and send a copy to the estate executor. The will custodian is the person who is in possession of the original, signed will at the time of death. Because the timing is important, individuals will want to entrust wills to a professional provider or to a trusted family member or friend.

Next, someone must petition the court to start a probate case. The petition must be filed with the court overseeing the county where the deceased resided. Because you need more than a single form to file this petition, the California Court recommends seeking third-party, professional assistance with this step.

Once a probate case is started, a hearing is set. The person who petitioned for the case must also notify anyone with a possible right to the estate about the hearing. Notification must be done in writing, but the petitioner himself or herself cannot mail the notice. The notice must also be placed in the newspaper. All of the paperwork and notifications will be reviewed before the hearing moves forward.

During the hearing process, the court will review estate documents and make decisions about how property should be distributed. By creating appropriate estate documents, you can help ensure that the court's decisions are aligned with your wishes.

Source: California Courts, "Steps to Take If the Case Belongs in Probate Court," accessed June 19, 2015

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