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Frequently Asked Questions

How does probate work in California?

California probate is a legal process which focuses on making sure your loved one’s assets are transferred to their beneficiaries/heirs and that their debts get paid. This process is generally handled by an attorney and an administrator/executor (usually a family member).

When is probate necessary?

Probate is generally necessary when someone who has assets, such as a property or bank accounts, dies without having a trust. In order for the assets to pass to the inheritors/beneficiaries, it has to go through the probate process. Probate is also necessary if someone only leaves a will without a trust.

How long does the probate process take?

It depends on the case, but generally a simple probate can take between six months to a year.

How much does the probate process cost?

In California lawyers charge a “statutory fee,” which is a percentage of the gross value estate. This means the total value of the assets that go through probate, not counting any debt. For example, if a house is worth $700,000, but there is a mortgage of $600,000, the value will be based off of the $700,000 NOT the $100,000 equity. This makes probate very expensive, especially in California where property values are high.

The following are the current rates set by California Probate Code §10810:

  • 4% of the first $100,000
  • 3% of the next $100,000
  • 2% of the next $800,000
  • 1% of the next $9,000,000
  • 5$ of the next $15,000,000

Example: Joe passes away and he has (1) a house worth $600,000 with a $250,000 mortgage; (2) bank account with $50,000; (3) vacant land $75,000, no mortgage owed on it; and (4) owes the IRS $25,000. Joe’s total assets for purposes of calculating statutory fees are $725,000 ($600,000 house + $50,000 bank account + $75,000 vacant land). None of his debt counts. Therefore, statutory fees will calculated as follows:

  • 4% of the first $100,000 = $4,000
  • 3% of the next $100,000 = $3,000
  • 2% of the next $525,000 = $10,500

Total statutory fees owed to the attorney will be $17,500. However, it doesn’t stop there! The executor/administrator, usually a family member either named in the will or appointed by the court, to help with the administration of the estate, is also entitled to these statutory fees. Meaning, the fees above are doubled. One set for the attorney and the other for the executor/administrator. Therefore, in the above example the statutory fees will actually be $17,500 x 2 = $35,000.

What if someone contests the will or the probate, do my fees go up?

It is not uncommon that during the process someone may pop up making claims that something was promised to them or to simply dispute something. If so, then aside from the statutory fees above, an attorney may charge an hourly rate and request what is called “extraordinary fees”.

Why Hire Contreras Law Firm?

Our legal team has handled numerous probates, from simple straight forward ones to multimillion-dollar estates with extensive litigation. It is important to hire a law firm with experience and who can handle any obstacle which may come up.

One of our attorney’s, Andrew Stilwell, has been handling probate cases for over 18 years. His extensive knowledge in probate ranges from probate administration to extensive probate litigation, including successful appeals. To schedule an appointment, please call our San Diego office at 619-908-1495 or send us an email.

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At Contreras Law Firm, our experienced probate attorneys understand the challenges clients face after the death of a loved one. We will take the time to fully understand your concerns and expectations. We will customize a legal strategy that meets your goals. We will explain the laws that govern probate law matters and give you an honest assessment of what you can expect as your case moves forward.