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Part III - How does the probate process work?

Distributing the estate

After notices and communications have been properly handled, and the estate properly inventoried, the final step in the probate process is the distribution of estate property. This process usually takes about a year, depending on the size and complexity of the estate. In California, the personal representative has up to year from the date of appointment to complete the probate process, unless federal estate taxes have to be filed. In which case, it could take up to 18 months to complete the probate process.

Depending on the terms of the will or the amount of the decedent's debts, the personal representative may have to sell real estate or other estate property to pay off creditors or to distribute cash gifts to certain heirs.

Creditors that have a valid claim are likely to be paid as follows:

  1. Estate administration costs
  2. Family allowances
  3. Funeral expenses
  4. Taxes and debt
  5. All remaining claims

Whatever is left of the estate after creditors get paid is distributed to the beneficiaries as specified in the will or state law, if there is no will. Then, the property will be transferred to its new owners.

If the estate does not have sufficient money to pay off creditors, the law does not hold beneficiaries responsible for the decedent's debts without their consent. There may be nothing left for the beneficiaries after the creditors are paid, however, beneficiaries will not owe the creditors money. Unless, the beneficiary guaranteed payment or assumed liability for care given the decedent.

*This blog entry was not written by an Attorney and should not be construed as professional legal advice.

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