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Intestate succession Pt. 2: Tips for navigating probate

Even if a loved one passes away without making a will, the surviving family members usually still have to handle the probate process. This can leave families with a lot of questions.

So, here are a few tips that can help individuals through the California probate process when there is no will. 

Every possible beneficiary of the estate should understand these duties-not just the administrator. After all, it might be helpful if the appointed administrator can rely on family members for help. This can reduce the chances of conflict and help families manage the probate process more effectively.

As we discussed in the last post, the probate court will appoint someone to be the administrator of the estate. This person is usually a close family member of the loved one who passed away. Like an executor, this person must:

  • Take an inventory of the estate: This can be much more difficult when a loved one passes away without a will. A will sometimes includes a list of property that guides an executor. In intestate succession, the administrator must create an inventory on their own by reviewing the decedent's mail and personal records.
  • Handle outstanding debts: Usually, the probate process provides for notifying potential creditors and allowing them the opportunity to submit a claim for payment against the estate. Some creditors, such as Medi-Cal, the Franchise Tax Board, have a higher priority than other creditors to have the debt paid by the estate. However, the appointed administrator should monitor these payments to ensure they are correct.
  • Act in good faith: This is always essential in probate matters, but it is especially so in intestate succession. An administrator or representative should make decisions with integrity and fairness to all of the beneficiaries. In intestate succession, the probate court must be guided by the Probate Code in determining the ultimate distribution of the estate. Administrators cannot show more favor towards a particular beneficiary over another.

The probate court tries to be fair. But it can still be beneficial for families to have an experienced probate attorney on their side to help them protect their rights during intestate succession.

Communication is key

Sometimes, the rules of intestate succession can be difficult to understand. This, in addition to how the property is distributed, commonly results in disagreements which can lead to costly litigation. Even the closest family members can quickly become frustrated with each other and the situation.

Administering an estate without a will is not always easy. That is why it is critical for families to communicate with each other. When families are on the same page as a united front during the probate process, they can prevent disputes before they happen and work together to preserve their loved one's legacy.

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