The "Scary" Facts About Probate in California


You may know that the probate process can be time consuming and costly - you might even find it scary! While probate is a complex area of the law, we'd like to help demystify it and clarify a few facts for you.


The probate process in California

Probate is the process of dealing with a deceased person's estate, which generally means clearing their debts and distributing their assets. If the deceased person had a will in which they named an executor, this person will typically be appointed to oversee the estate.

Key problems with probate

  • Cost: The probate process can be expensive, both in terms of court fees and probate attorney fees.
  • Privacy: In probate, all personal information such as the identity of the executor and beneficiaries, and the decedent's liabilities and assets, become open for public viewing as probate is a proceeding in state court. Anyone could access your personal and private information by accessing information at the local clerk's office, or in some states, by a quick search online. For those who wish to keep personal information private, avoiding probate is the answer.
  • Time to settle: In probate, all decisions regarding the deceased's affairs must be approved by a judge, which often takes long periods of time. In California, this can generally take anywhere between nine months and two years.
  • Lack of access to cash: When you file probate, beneficiaries will not receive the assets until the case is closed. In the meantime, bills for funerals, taxes, utilities, storage, and all other fees tied to the loved one's passing must be paid. By avoiding probate, you will completely remove an entire category of expenses and avoid additional complexity in settling your loved one's affairs.

Does an entire estate always have to go through probate?

There are several situations where probate may be unnecessary. It is possible to avoid the probate process in California, most effectively accomplished by placing all your assets into a living trust. This is one of the key benefits of a living trust, along with greater control, saving money, privacy protection, contingency planning for incapacitation, and overall peace of mind.

If the total value of an estate (personal and real property) is less than $166,250, the estate does not have to go through probate. Also, assets that are jointly owned will automatically transfer to the surviving owner and not go through probate. If real estate is held as community property, it generally does not have to go through probate. Additionally, a financial asset that names a beneficiary (e.g., bank or brokerage account) will also avoid probate if documented properly.

What to do if the estate is already in probate?

At Mortensen & Reinheimer, PC, we can help with the probate process and, if necessary, probate and trust litigation. Our professional corporation has more than five decades of combined experience in the area of probate. We can handle anything from paying the outstanding debts of an estate to litigation for the fair distribution of a decedent's property. Our probate attorneys have the insight, passion, and integrity to protect your rights at every step of the probate process.

Planning your estate doesn't have to be scary

If you need an estate plan and wish to avoid probate, please contact Mortensen & Reinheimer, PC at (714) 384-6053 to make an appointment, or use our online contact form. Our website is

About the author:

Weily Yang
Weily Yang is an attorney at Mortensen & Reinheimer, PC, an estate planning and probate law corporation in Irvine. Weily is a zealous advocate for individuals with special needs. His primary focus is special needs trusts and probate conservatorships together with estate planning, trust administration, and probate. He can be reached at

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