Understanding the Difference Between Formal and Summary Probate Administration

What can you expect if one of your family members has recently passed away and now you’re going to be involved in a probate process related to his or her estate? The word probate refers to a process in which the assets of a deceased person are distributed among the beneficiaries appointed in his or her Will. In California, this process can be either formal – in which case it is structured according to specific procedures and supervised by the court – or summarized – where relatively simple transfer methods apply. In this article, we provide a brief overview of these two kinds of probate and administration proceedings.

Formal Probate

Formal probate proceedings are the default for most estates. If a deceased person left a Will, this document will be used to guide the probate process so that the person’s property and assets are distributed according to his or her wishes. A Will usually names an executor, that is, a person who will administer the estate. Administering the estate includes paying all the pending debts and taxes and making sure that assets and property find their way to the beneficiaries.

Probate starts when a person appointed as the executor of a Will files a petition with the court to be officially recognized as such. Upon receiving the petition, the court will verify the authenticity of the Will. If no legal impediments are found,  the court issues “Letters Testamentary” or “Letters of Administration,” which is an official document that appoints the executor and grants him or her the authority to manage the decedent’s estate and distribute their assets.

Once the letters testamentary are issued, the executor must notify all interested parties of the start of the probate proceedings. Then, he or she will be required to gather, list, and appraise all of the assets pertaining to the estate. The executor will also take care of settling any decedent’s pending bills, financial obligations, and debts. If required, they will also pay an estate tax which, at times, will require liquidating some portion of the estate.

After the assets have been listed and appraised, the bills and taxes are paid, and creditors have presented their demands and received their money back, the remaining assets may be distributed to the heirs and beneficiaries mentioned in the Will. In order to be able to do so, the executor must file a petition with the court and obtain its approval. When the final payment to the beneficiaries is made and all of the assets have been distributed, the role of the executor is over. They will now need to file a petition to obtain the final discharge issued by the court. After that, the formal probate process if officially over.

Summary Probate

Summary probate refers to simplified probate procedures that can only be applied if the gross value of the deceased person’s estate doesn’t exceed $150,000. In such cases, heirs and beneficiaries may claim their inherited property and assets in the following two ways:

  • By affidavit: An affidavit is a sworn statement under penalty of perjury. An affidavit can be used to claim personal property (if 40 days since the death of the estate owner has elapsed), general real property to the value of $50,000 or less (if 6 months since the death has elapsed) and real property inherited by the spouse with no restriction on the value of the property (the 40-day limit since the death of the estate owner still applies).
  • By court hearing and order: This may be used either in the case of transferring spousal property or real estate property under $150,000 in value

Need Assistance in the Probate Process?

If you have any questions with regards to the details of either formal or summary probate proceedings or if you are currently involved in probate, feel free to reach out to us. Our attorneys at Solan, Park & Robello specialize in estate planning as well as estate administration and probates. We will gladly address your doubts and provide needed advice during a free consultation that you can schedule with us at a date and time of your convenience.

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Solan, Park & Robello

Solan, Park & Robello is a full-service probate and estate planning firm offering experienced counsel in a wide range of estate planning matters—from preparation to administration to litigation.

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