In California, superior courts oversee the probate process. Probate proceedings are meant to settle the final legal and financial matters of a decedent's estate. If a decedent leaves a valid will, a probate court will distribute the decedent's property according to his wishes. If a decedent dies without a will, or intestate, a probate court will establish who his heirs are and distribute his property according to California's probate code and laws of intestacy. California also offers a streamlined probate process for estates valued at $20,000 to $100,000.
California Probate Basics
Probate departments of California's superior courts supervise the probate process. Whether a decedent dies with or without a will, only certain types of property are probate property. Real property is considered probate property, while trusts and life insurance proceeds pass to beneficiaries outside probate. According to California's probate code, the custodian of a will has 30 days from the date of knowledge of the decedent's death to file a copy with the probate court and to mail a copy of the will to the person named as executor in the will.
Probate and Testate Succession
When a person dies with a will, he is said to have died testate. In California, a valid will must comply with the requirements given in its probate code. Because California is a community property jurisdiction, a decedent cannot leave more than 50 percent of his share of the marital estate to someone other than his surviving spouse. Absent any other illegality, probate courts must abide by a decedent's last wishes. If a decedent's will is contested, California probate courts hear any contests and resolve them.
Probate and Intestate Succession
When a person dies without a will, he is said to have died intestate. California's laws of intestacy govern the amount to which a decedent's heirs are entitled; probate courts distribute property based on these laws. For example, if a decedent dies without a will in California, his surviving spouse is entitled to his one-half share of the community property estate. Regarding separate property--property acquired before marriage, inheritances and gifts--a decedent's surviving spouse is entitled to all separate property if the decedent leaves no children. If a decedent has a surviving spouse and one child, the surviving spouse is only entitled to one-half of his separate property, according to California's intestacy rules.
California's probate courts distribute a decedent's property according to the provisions in his will or through laws of intestate succession. Additionally, probate courts in California oversee other financial issues concerning the decedent's estate. For instance, if a decedent dies with debt, a probate court will see that the executor/personal representative gives notice and payment to creditors. California imposes a time limit on the probate process as well. A personal representative must complete the probate process within one year from the date of her appointment. If a personal representative files a federal estate tax, the time limit to finish the probate process is 18 months.