When someone passes away, the assets making up their estate need to be distributed to their heirs. In many cases, in order for those assets to be properly distributed the estate must go through the probate process. Probate involves several steps, including proving the existence of a valid will if there is one, identifying the property and creating an inventory, appraising the property as necessary, paying debts, funeral expenses, and taxes, and then distributing the remaining property to heirs and beneficiaries. Sacramento probate attorneys can be very helpful.
Why should we hire Sacramento probate attorneys?
Probate attorneys specialize in assisting an executor or personal representative through the entire probate process from beginning to end. Sacramento probate attorneys can be an invaluable resources because the laws in each state are different with regard to probate proceedings and all of the requirements imposed by the probate court. In fact, the first piece of advice for a personal representative is “hire an attorney.”
If you are trying to decide whether you really need to hire an attorney, you should ask yourself a few questions. If your answer to most of these questions is “yes,” the more likely you need the advice and expertise of Sacramento probate attorneys. These questions are geared toward determining how difficult the process may be in your case and the likelihood for any additional problems.
Will general probate proceedings be required?
In California, an estate can qualify for a simpler proceedings if the estate is relatively small. This is sometimes referred to as “summary probate,” which provides for a simpler, more streamlined process. In some case, you may be able to nearly bypass probate entirely with a basic sworn statement. A probate attorney can advise you whether or not you can use these simpler proceedings. If the estate you are involved with does not qualify for any type of simplified probate process, then an experienced and qualified probate attorney to help you through the often lengthy and complicated probate proceeding.
Is it likely that family members will disagree on inheritances or contest the will?
If the family members involved are already not getting along, or it seems that a will contest is inevitable, then you should speak to a probate attorney as soon as possible. If there is a good chance that a family member will file a legal action to contest some aspect of the estate administration, you need help. Unfortunately, it is all too common for a probate lawsuit to tear a family apart, while also costing the estate tons of money. Your probate attorney may be able to assist you in avoiding litigation or at least finding an efficient resolution.
Does your estate include complicated property?
If the estate you are administering consists of basic, common assets such as bank accounts, vehicles, a house and personal property, then it may not be too complicated to handle on your own. However, if the estate includes commercial real estate, for example, a business or other assets that require special treatment, then you should hire a probate attorney right away. Especially with a business, you need an expert to help you appraise and sell the business if there are no business succession plans in place.
Will there be sufficient money to pay the debts of the estate?
The best scenario for an executor is an estate with sufficient cash to pay the debts, taxes, and expenses, with assets remaining to pay the beneficiaries or heirs. If that is not the case, however, then you will need to be able to determine which debts to pay first. Depending on the laws of your estate, certain creditors have priority over others who may have a claim. If you don’t know how that works, you need to seek legal advice immediately.
Will the estate incur federal estate taxes?
While in most cases, the value of the estate will be low enough not to incur federal estate taxes. In fact, with the exemption amount currently at $5.49 million in early 2017, nearly all estates are able to avoid federal estate taxes. However, there are some estates that exceed the exemption amount. More likely, if the deceased lived in a state that imposes estate taxes as well, there may still be a tax liability to deal with. While many states still impose an estate tax, California currently does not. That may change due to pending state legislation. You will definitely need expert legal and tax advice if the estate needs to file an estate tax return.
If you have questions regarding probate, or any other estate planning needs, contact the Northern California Center for Estate Planning and Elder Law for a consultation, either online or by calling us at (916) 437-3500.