In California, some estates are probated when a person dies and leaves behind property and assets. When there is a will, a probate case can be opened to obtain a court's determination of the validity of a will, which is normally automatic in most cases.
Not all estates will be opened in probate court. It is generally not necessary to go through probate when the decedent had little or no property or assets to pass to heirs. However, when there are property, assets and debts, the case may need to be probated. A probated estate can settle outstanding debts with creditors and distribute the remaining assets and property to intended recipients.
Probate is initiated by filing paperwork and motions in court. For people who leave behind estates worth between $20,000 and $150,000, the state has simplified procedures available. For more complicated cases or for those with certain types of property, a more complicated process may need to be followed in order to properly probate an estate.
Estates of decedents who had significant debt or who owed taxes most likely will need to go through the probate process. People whose relatives passed away under such circumstances may benefit from speaking to an attorney for more thorough guidance on navigating complex cases. The person who is the named legal representative of the decedent's estate will need to be able to inventory all assets and debts, pay all owed debts and taxes and distribute the remaining property as listed in the will. This can be a significant undertaking, and the representative may benefit from getting the assistance of an attorney who understands the process and what is involved.
Source: Superior Court of California, "About Probate - How to Probate a Decedent's Estate", October 19, 2014