Time Limitations in California State Inheritance Laws

By Shelly Morgan

Many deadlines follow a person's death as his estate is being probated in California. Probate is the process by which courts make sure that a deceased person's debts are paid and property distributed to his heirs. Deadlines in this process must be satisfied in order for the process to proceed smoothly. Probate only applies if the combined value of the decedent's real and personal property are greater than $150,000 at the time of death. If the estate's assets are less than this, these deadlines are irrelevant.

Petitioning the Court

The custodian of the will must deliver the will to the superior court and provide a copy to the named executor within 30 days of learning of the death. The California Probate Code states that failure to share these documents in a timely fashion creates liability "for all damages sustained by any person injured by the failure." This step is often done in conjunction with filing a Petition for Probate.

Petition Deadline

The probate process begins when the executor files a Petition for Probate. If the decedent left a will, this document is characterized as a Petition of Will and for Letters Testamentary. If the will does not name an executor, it is a Petition of Will and for Letters of Administration with Will Annexed. If there is no will, the document is a Petition for Letters of Administration.The Petition for Probate must be filed within 30 days after learning of the death or you risk waiving the right to be appointed executor of the estate.

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Contesting Probate

After the will has been admitted to probate, the court appoints an executor or administrator by issuing Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration. California law provides that any interested person may contest the admission of a will to probate as long as they petition the court within 120 days after the will has been admitted to probate. The petition must state the basis for the objections.

Creditor Claims

The executor of the estate publishes a Notice of Petition to Administer Estate in the legal notice section of a local newspaper. This publication provides notice to the decedent's creditors. After publication, the executor must file an affidavit of publication with the court, indicating he has complied with the law. Creditors have four months after the date letters are first issued to the executor or 60 days after a notice of administration is delivered to the creditor.

Filing the Inventory

The California Probate Code requires the executor or administrator to file an inventory and appraisal of the decedent's property with the court within four months of the Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration being issued. Depending upon the circumstances, courts may extend this time limit.

Tax Concerns

If the estate earns income after the decedent dies, the estate is liable for taxes assessed on that income. This is different from the decedent’s final tax return, which reflects taxes assessed on money earned while she was alive. As of 2013, the IRS requires the filing of Form 1041 for an estate with a gross income for the taxable year of $600 or more. The Franchise Tax Board requires the filing of Form 541 for the same period. These filings should be made in the appropriate tax year, prior to closing probate.

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