Probate & Trust Administration
Probate refers to the process where a court oversees the administration of a deceased person's estate. The purpose of the probate process is to ensure that any final bills and expenses are paid, including any taxes owed, and any remaining assets are distributed to the beneficiaries named in a will. Probate may occur even if there is no will; if the decedent died without a will, the decedent is said to have died "intestate", and the decedent's estate will be distributed to the decedent's heirs as set forth in California's laws governing intestate succession.
Not all estates require probate. Under the California Probate Code, estates of less than $100,000 generally do not require probate administration. Life insurance policies, IRAs, and 401(k)s are controlled by beneficiary designations, and also generally do not require probate. Property held in joint tenancy or community property with right of survivorship also avoid probate, regardless of the value of such property, as do assets that have been properly transferred into a living trust.
Serving as the personal representative of a decedent's estate involves many fiduciary duties and responsibilities. It is important to seek the guidance and representation of an experienced California probate attorney. Our attorneys handle probate administration of estates of all sizes and complexities, ranging from simple estates to large estates comprised of business interests, real estate and assets located in more than one state.
Trust and Estate Administration
One common estate planning error our attorneys frequently encounter is the failure to transfer title to an asset into the name of a revocable living trust. We have had many clients of other law firms come to us for assistance with trust administration after the death of the trustor, and we then discover that the trust has not been properly funded with the assets of the decedent. When this occurs, we prepare a petition to the probate court commonly known in California as a Heggstad petition, requesting that the court allow for the transfer of the asset in accordance with the terms of the living trust, without the requirement of a full probate proceeding.
In addition to providing representation and assistance with post-mortem trust administration after the death of a trustor, we also provide assistance with trust administration during the lifetime of the trustor. We advise our clients regarding the use of notices to beneficiaries when a gift has been made to an irrevocable trust (which are referred to as Crummey notices after the definitive case in this area), and prepare and file gift tax returns and fiduciary income tax returns.
Our attorneys have extensive experience in the area of estate and trust administration, including the settlement of complex estate matters, post-mortem income tax planning, and the use of disclaimers. Thomas Bret is a certified public accountant and attorney, and is uniquely qualified to assist our clients with taxation issues. We prepare gift and generation-skipping transfer tax returns, estate tax returns, and IRS and state filings. We also handle tax controversies, including IRS and state estate, gift, and income tax controversies.
To arrange a complimentary consultation with one of our experienced probate and trust administration attorneys, contact Cederborg & Bret LLP by e-mail, or call (925) 947-1370.