Understanding the Difference Between Formal and Summary Probate Administration

March 20, 2019

Last will and testament paper and pen.

If you have had a loved one pass away in the Fresno or Clovis area, their estate may need to pass through the probate courts before being distributed. For many people, this is a frustrating and confusing experience. Understanding how probate court works and making the right decisions each step of the way can really help make the entire process much easier. One important thing to be aware of is that there are two main options for how the courts will handle the estate – formal probate administration and summary probate administration.

What is Summary Administration?

Summary administration is much faster and easier than formal administration of an estate in probate, but can only be used in certain cases. In the State of California, summary administration is possible only when the total value of real estate plus any personal property is $163,000 or less. If summary administration is possible, the process will go faster, averaging around two to four months here in Fresno and Clovis. Other counties may be a little faster or slower depending on the probate court’s caseload. We are centrally located and able to file our court documents remotely and even appear in court by telephone so we handle probates in counties all over California (Madera, Merced, Stanislaus, Kings, Tulare, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles to name a few of our more common ones). It will also be significantly less expensive. This is because the process is less complicated, with fewer steps that you need to complete before the estate is settled. Contact us now and we will guide you through the process of figuring out whether summary administration of your loved one’s estate is an option.

What is Formal Administration?

Formal probate administration is necessary for estates with assets over $163,000. During this process, a personal representative of the estate (sometimes called “administrator” or “executor”) will be officially appointed by the courts. The personal representative will have the authority to gather the information and assets of the estate from individuals, financial institutions, and businesses. The personal representative: (1) collects assets and inventories and appraises them; (2) pays off debts; and (3) distributes the remainder to the heirs / beneficiaries.

Important! — Just because you are named in a Will as an “executor” does not mean you have any legal authority to handle estate matters. You must be appointed by the court as the personal representative before you have any legal authority to do anything!  [Link to CONTACT US page] Contact us now and we will guide you through the process of being appointed as personal representative of your loved one’s estate.

Once you are appointed, you will need to go through all the necessary steps on behalf of the estate.

What if I’m not the executor but I’m a beneficiary?

If you’re not nominated in the WIll or appointed by the court as a personal representative, that doesn’t mean you should simply let the personal representative proceed without knowing what they are doing. You have rights to see copies of the Will and Trust, you have the right to object to certain actions that the personal representative takes.

We can work with the personal representative (or their attorney) to help acquire the necessary documentation, explain what the Will and Trust mean, explain the legal process to you, determine the value of various items in the estate, and much more so that your inheritance is protected and maximized. This will help keep the estate progressing through probate and help ensure everything is handled correctly. In general, a formal administration will take between 4-12 months to complete.

Get the Legal Representation You Need

If you will be dealing with this type of situation, here’s what you should consider before hiring a lawyer:

  1. Only work with a law firm that focuses on wills, trusts, estates and probate. Most law firms do not work in this area of law. The ones that do often have one or two attorneys with some experience but they do lots of other things too. Ask every firm you are considering “Are you a trusts and estates law firm?”  If they say anything other than yes, then move on.
  2. Only work with a lawyer that focuses on wills, trusts, estates and probate. Probate is highly specialized. Most lawyers do not work in this area of law regularly. Ask every lawyer you are considering what percentage of their practice is currently wills, trusts, estates and probate. If they say anything less than 50% then move on.

Lawvex is a wills, trusts, estates and probate attorney in Clovis. Our attorneys all have their entire practice dedicated to wills, trusts, estates and probate. We serve all of California and especially the counties of Madera, Merced, Stanislaus, Kings, Tulare, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Los Angeles.

Please contact us to schedule a consultation and discuss your situation. We would be honored to help you through this complex process.