California’s Probate Division is a special section of the superior court that has authority over proceedings related to the distribution of estate assets, the entitlements of certain minors, and adults who can no longer care for themselves. While the probate courts broadly oversee most estate-related proceedings, the hard work of honoring a loved one’s legacy is most often left up to the executor. Overview of California probate court | California Probate Lawyer

Understanding California Probate Claims

Every state has its own probate division. In California, probate proceedings typically take place in the Probate Department of the Superior Court in the county where the deceased person lived at the time of their death.

Probate proceedings are managed by the probate court, with a judge or panel of judges assigned to oversee each case. However, the court does not actively execute estates. Instead, the Probate Division is tasked with ensuring that the deceased person’s creditors are paid, and any remaining assets are distributed to the right beneficiaries. When disagreements arise, the probate court has the authority to adjudicate disagreements.

The Role of an Executor in CA Probate

In general, the most intensive aspect of probate is the execution of the estate. If the deceased person—or decedent—named an executor in their will, the executor will be responsible for:

  • Initiating probate in the correct county
  • Sending notices of probate to the estate’s creditors and beneficiaries
  • Marshalling and inventorying the decedent’s assets, which could include bank accounts and real properties, furniture, and coin collections
  • Managing the estate’s assets
  • Paying the estate’s creditors
  • Defending the estate from any frivolous claims
  • Disbursing inheritances to heirs

Estate executors also have other responsibilities, many of which are time-sensitive. Since executors can be penalized for inadvertently mismanaging an estate, they may elect to ask an experienced California probate attorney for assistance.

Cases the CA Probate Court Hears

When most people think of probate courts, they imagine will proceedings, estate contests, and trust challenges. While the Golden State’s Probate Division does have jurisdiction over most estate-related disputes, it also hears the following types of cases:

Estate management

The most common task of the probate court is overseeing the dissolution of estates. When a California resident passes away—with or without a will—their remaining assets, or their estate, must be redistributed in accordance with state law. Ordinarily, this means disbursing inheritances to the heirs named in the deceased person’s last will and testament. However, if the decedent did not write a will, establish a trust, or create an estate plan, the court may consider the deceased person’s next-of-kin as their presumptive heirs.

Trust administration

Under most circumstances, any asset transferred to the control of a living trust or testamentary trust is not subject to probate. However, the probate courts do adjudicate trust challenges, which could relate to the terms of a trust, the trust’s administration, or another trust-related dispute.

Conservatorship claims

In a conservatorship case, the court may appoint an individual—the conservator—to oversee the finances and care of an older adult or an incapacitated adult. Conservators are considered fiduciaries and have a legal obligation to act in the best interests of their ward.

Guardianship affairs

The court may appoint or authorize the appointment of a guardian for a minor child if the child’s parents have passed away or are no longer able to care for them.

While the Probate Division has authority over a decedent’s California assets, executors and other estate representatives may have to file probate petitions in other states if the decedent owned assets in another jurisdiction.

Do You Need Legal Help Regarding Probate Issues in California?

If a loved one died without a will and you need legal assistance regarding the probate process, you should be speak with an experienced probate attorney as soon as possible. Contact us online, or call our office directly at 800-756-5596 to claim your space at one of our free, informative seminars. Your attendance will qualify you for a discount for our probate services. We proudly serve clients throughout California with offices in Torrance, Newport Beach, Orange, Woodland Hills and Pasadena.


Philip J. Kavesh
Nationally recognized attorney helping clients with customized estate planning guidance for over 40 years.