Oceanside Probate Attorney

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Oceanside Probate Lawyer

Losing a loved one is difficult. You may be consumed with grief and mental anguish that blocks your mind from anything but their passing. While struggling to hold onto their memory and process your emotions, you are then confronted with the debts, assets, and other final wishes left by your loved one. Whether your loved one’s final wishes were expressed in a will, trust, or were never established, the distribution of their assets is handled through the probate process, which could last up to a year.

From identifying and notifying beneficiaries to ensuring the administrator of the estate is aware of their responsibilities and handles them legally, there are many obstacles the process could face, making it challenging for all involved. However, with experienced probate attorneys in Oceanside, CA, like our team at the law office of Paul V. L. Campo, you can get the help and assistance you need throughout the process to be sure everything is handled correctly. Whether you are the executor of the estate or a beneficiary, all parties share one common goal: ensuring that the process is handled correctly, ethically, and in full support of the final wishes of those who passed.

Oceanside Probate Attorney

What Is Probate?

Before a person passes, they will likely engage in some form of estate planning. This will involve determining how their assets, such as bank accounts, homes, retirement accounts, and other assets, are divided amongst designated beneficiaries, descendants, and heirs. In the estate planning process, there will be a person designated as the executor who oversees this distribution. If an executor is not named, one will be appointed through the court system.

The court’s involvement in the probate process is to ensure that the estate is handled correctly and to help settle any disputes. Unfortunately, there can be disagreements between the executor of the estate and the beneficiaries who feel the estate is not being handled correctly or that they are not being treated fairly in the process. There may also be legal questions surrounding particular parts of the estate and whether it is to be included or not.

Estate planning is vital and can set the legal grounds for the debts, assets, and property of someone who passed. However, no process is perfect, and probate helps to ensure that everything is done correctly.

How Does the Probate Process Work?

After a person passes, the assets, debts, and physical property they accumulated throughout their life must be distributed. The probate process starts by looking at what estate planning was done ahead of time, what parts were legally finalized, and what is not yet accounted for in those documents. For most estates, one of two scenarios will occur:

  • A will exists. You may have heard the phrase “the last will and testament” when referring to the final wishes left by a person who has passed. Also known as a testator, the now deceased person has made a final declaration of what they hope will happen with the belongings they accumulated throughout their life. Upon their death, if a will exists, an executor will be established that is often a member of the family but could also be another legally identified individual. A court will confirm this person’s identity and their role in overseeing the distribution of the estate.
  • A will does not exist. If there is a situation in which a person passes without a will or a will is deemed invalid by a court, this is referred to as intestate. When this happens, the court must decide what will happen with the person’s estate according to the law. Because there was no executor established, the court will decide who is to serve as an administrator over the estate whose job is to determine the right course of action for the deceased’s property, assets, and debts as directed by the law. They will then be responsible for determining heirs and beneficiaries, as well as how the assets will be divided.

What Happens in Probate Court?

After the passing of a loved one, or if they become incapacitated to the extent they are unable to make sound decisions, a probate court may need to intervene. A judge will review the evidence presented that will help determine an administrator as well as provide legal frameworks for the division of assets. Probate courts specifically provide decisions regarding:

  • Will validations for a person who is deceased or incapacitated
  • Ensuring an administrator has been assigned to provide oversight to the matters of the estate, including inventory of physical property, assets, and debts
  • Preemptively considering disputes and providing rulings that seek to resolve the distribution of the inventory
  • If a will exists, ensuring it is executed properly while allowing state law to provide guidance for anything outside of the will

What Are the Pitfalls of Probate?

While the probate process seeks to help with settling the matters of a deceased or incapacitated loved one, there are parts of the process that are quite cumbersome and difficult. The process itself can be very time-consuming and seem very intrusive. While the average probate process takes between six and twelve months, it could last for years, depending on the complexities of the estate and the willingness to cooperate from all the parties involved.

For those involved, it can also seem as though it is digging into a very personal side of life. It often involves combing through personal financial records, and because it is a part of the court system, that becomes a matter of public record. This would include all aspects of discovery, including savings, investments, and real estate ownership.

How Do Probate Attorneys Help?

Probate attorneys are not there to dictate what should happen; they are there to help provide legal guidance to either help an executor of the estate appropriately carry out their duties or to oversee the process as ordered by a court. Many executors may feel they know what to do, but the law of disseminating a person’s estate can be complicated. There are several ways the process could go wrong, and an attorney tries to mitigate it before it happens. Some of the ways a probate attorney can help include:

  • Providing guidance on paying debts and taxes
  • Assisting with filing both state and federal tax returns
  • Helping to manage the costs of a funeral
  • Assisting in locating heirs and beneficiaries
  • Assisting with retirement accounts from which benefits must be distributed
  • Providing legal guidance on probate disputes
  • Providing guidance for probate matters that also include wrongful death

Benefits of Using a Probate Attorney

While the duties of a probate attorney are laid out through the law, the benefits of using one extend beyond it. By hiring an attorney to help, you establish a partnership that can help ensure your rights are considered as either an administrator or a beneficiary. This partnership can help with the following:

  • Empowering you as the administrator to make sound decisions or as a beneficiary to hold the administrator accountable to the wishes of the will and the law
  • Providing an independent viewpoint from which to proceed through the process and being able to keep emotions out of the decision-making
  • Speeding the process along by keeping all parties focused on finding a resolution as quickly as possible
  • While there is an upfront cost, an attorney may save time and money in the future by ensuring everything is completed correctly the first time.

How Much Does an Estate Attorney Cost in California?

While the total costs encountered by hiring an attorney to assist in your probate matters vary from case to case, the biggest consideration is how large the estate is. Generally, probate attorneys will be paid a percentage of the value of the estate in conjunction with the executor fees. When these percentages reach a certain amount, a court could rule on how much these fees should be. In 2023, the fees were as follows:

  • 4% on the first $100,000
  • The next $100,000 would incur 3%
  • The next $800,000 would cost 2%
  • There is a 1% fee on the next $9 million
  • 5% on the next $15 million
  • Anything that reaches a total of more than $25 million is reasonably determined by a court.

When considering the total amount of the estate, debts are not a part of the calculation but rather based on the gross value of all qualified assets. Both executors and attorneys are subject to the same structure throughout the settlement process.

Oceanside Estate Planning Attorney

Losing a loved one can be difficult, but that loss can be even more complicated when their final wishes become a point of contention rather than a way to honor them. If you have questions, whether you are in the estate planning phase for yourself, you are the executor of a will, or you are the beneficiary, call the team at Paul V. L. Campo, Attorney at Law. For more than 30 years, we have provided experienced estate planning and probate services to our clients from all sides of the process. Our proactive and effective services can help you save time, money, and confusion no matter the circumstances of your case. Contact our offices today.

Oceanside Probate Attorney

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