Los Angeles, CA Probate is a popular punching bag. Its flaws are legion. Its villainy, infamous. It’s slow, bureaucratic, and expensive. Everyone from self-help guides and on-line legal providers to paralegal shops and document preparation chains bemoan probate as though it were the scourge of the earth. Even probate lawyers gang up on poor old probate.
But, there are two sides to every story.
Yes, probate is slow. In Los Angeles County, California, a simple undisputed probate will probably take a year and a half. Heaven help you if the probate is contested or the assets are complex. Yes, probate is bureaucratic. There are judicial council forms, county forms, court forms, notices to tax and welfare agencies, and recorder offices. There are time lines, affidavits, and court hearings. Yes, it’s expensive. There will be court filing fees, referee fees, and bond premiums that will run in the thousands of dollars. And attorney and representative fees will take a bite out of the estate. A gross estate worth $1 million is subject to attorney fees of $23,000 for ordinary services plus representative fees of another $23,000. These fees and charges represent money inefficiently allocated; its money that could and should have gone to the beneficiaries.
But probate isn’t always the villain. Probate law has helped lots of families. Believe it or not, sometimes probating a decedent’s estate makes sense. Probate makes for the orderly distribution of a decedent’s estate; is a forum for paying creditors; is a mechanism for cutting off creditor claims; and a way of resolving clouds on title. This author is aware of situations where the client’s choice of successor trustee leaves counsel with an uneasy feeling. When grandma passes, will the great nephew really put his family’s interests above his own in dealing with the home and bank accounts? Sometimes, court supervision in the form of a California probate proceeding with its attendant transparency and public reports is just the thing for giving family members peace of mind.
If you are the representative of a decedent estate, you should hire a California Probate Lawyer. While this may sound like self-serving advice coming from a California probate attorney, it’s in your interest to do so. As we used to say back home, do yourself a favor and hire an attorney – you’ll be glad you did. If you do it on the cheap by representing yourself, you’ll get what pay for. You’re bound to get tripped up on the countless little things and details. Does this petition get filed in room 429 or at the second floor filing window? Which line and which window? Is the filing fee $435 or is it waived? How many copies of the motion are you supposed to file? Is this document titled a motion, petition, or application? What’s the difference between an administrator and an executor? Do you check the box for special administration or general administration? (Hint, if you check both, it’ll get rejected.) How do you submit a proposed order? How do you retrieve the court order? Is this document a ruling, a minute order, or a final order? Did you get the letters renewed after 60 days? For that matter, what are “letters”? Did you double-hole punch the original court filing? What’s an original certificate? And how many do you need? Did you follow the local rules? How about the “local” local rules? And on and on. You get the point.
The learning curve is steep, and every time you overlook something in a large urban California probate court (such as Los Angeles County or Orange County) you invite painful delay. Each time a matter is taken off calendar and reset, the ultimate discharge of the probate case is pushed back by about two months. This means if you check off the wrong box, fail to clear a note, miss the probate attorney comments posted on the court’s website the night before the hearing, or forgot to file a proof of service, you’re wantonly administering self-inflicted wounds. For the sake of your sanity and that of the heirs, hire a California probate attorney.
I happen to know a good one.
Thanks for reading!