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How estates are administered in California probate court

When a person dies in California, his or her estate may be subjected to administration by the probate court. Any assets that were given away prior to the decedent's passing will not be subjected to probate. Property and assets that were included in a living trust also are not administered by the courts.

For people who have left wills, the probate case can be opened to administer the estate by filing a petition to administer the will. The will must also be filed. If the testator has not named an executor, the petition will include a request that the court appoint one. In cases in which there was no will, the probate court will appoint an administrator. The administrator will then make certain that all creditors and taxes are paid prior to distributing the property and assets according to the state's intestacy laws.

When a spouse is surviving or if a home is owned in joint tenancy, the home will pass to the other person without being probated. The value of jointly held accounts will also automatically pass to the joint account-holder. Similarly, life insurance money is normally not a part of an estate and will go to the named beneficiary of the policy.

Understanding how estate administration works can help people as they plan. By making careful decisions regarding their wills and whether or not they wish to include property in a living trust people can help reduce the potential tax burden on their estate following their death. Careful planning and making certain to make a complete list of all assets, accounts, interests and property can be of much help to an individual's estate planning attorney. People should also make a list of all of their intended beneficiaries along with their contact information and determine how they wish their property to be divided.

Source: Superior Court of California, County of Sacramento, "Decedents' Estates", November 09, 2014

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