ESTATE ADMINISTRATION IN CALIFORNIA
The legal issues involved in administering an estate generally include making a list of the deceased individual's assets, paying their outstanding debts and then distributing any remaining assets to heirs or beneficiaries. During the probate process, the court appoints an individual to take care of these tasks. If the deceased individual had a last will and testament, this person is known as an executor. If the estate owner dies intestate, the court appoints an administrator.
Probate is usually a fairly straightforward process, but matters become more complex when a will is contested or there is no will and heirs become embroiled in disputes. Probate may also take longer when there is not enough money in the estate to pay all of the deceased person's creditors. This is known as an insolvent estate. In these situations, the executor or administrator will ask the court to determine which creditors get paid. In California, probate is simplified and going to court is not usually necessary when estates are worth $150,000 or less.
In addition to paying outstanding debts, executors or administrators must settle any unresolved tax issues and file any necessary tax paperwork. When the Internal Revenue Service owes the deceased person money, filing a lawsuit may be necessary. Once creditors and the IRS have been taken care of, any remaining assets may be distributed to heirs or beneficiaries in accordance with the terms of the will or state law.
Attorneys with estate administration and probate experience may suggest using living trusts to avoid the probate process. When assets are placed into a living trust, the testator no longer owns them. This means that they will not be subject to probate. Trusts also give testators far more control over when and how their assets will be distributed.