What is it?
A Will is a document in which you give directions about who receives your property after your death. You can also nominate a guardian for your children, if they are under eighteen years old, and if both parents are deceased. The person you nominate to handle your estate after you pass away is called an "executor."
When you pass away, your executor will need to file your Will with the Superior Court in the County where you lived. This is called "lodging" your Will.
What happens with my Will after I die?
In order to distribute your assets, your estate must be administered through a process called "probate." Probate refers to the set of laws (codes) that direct how assets are distributed upon death. The Probate Codes also govern other issues such as Powers of Attorney, Advance Directives, Trusts, and Conservatorships.
What does it mean to "probate" my Will?
"Probating" a Will means that your executor applies to the Court to be approved as the executor and to start the legal proceeding to oversee the payment of your debts and taxes, and the distribution of your assets. During this Court process, the Judge decides whether your Will is authentic.
Probate proceedings are open to the public, and the notice of the probate filing must be published in a local newspaper. This is so that potential creditors can file claims against your estate. Your executor will either accept or reject the creditor claims. If the claim is accepted, then the debt is paid. If the claim is rejected, then the creditor has a short period of time to file a lawsuit against the estate.
If there is no dispute about any of your debts and medical expenses, then the Executor will apply to the Court for final distribution of your assets to your beneficiaries, and ask the Judge to approve the payment of all debts and taxes. In addition, the executor is entitled to a fee for his or her time and the attorney will be paid for their time. A final judgment is issued which approves and directs the executor to take care of all of these issues. Then the executor will request that the beneficiaries sign a receipt for their distributions, which are then filed with the Court and the executor applies to the Court to be relieved as the executor. When this occurs, the probate proceeding is finished.
A probate proceeding takes a minimum of four months after the Judge appoints the executor and admits the Will to probate. Most estates can be administered and closed within six to 18 months, depending upon the complexity and size of the estate.