Skip to main content


San Diego Probate: the Ins and Outs

What happens to someone’s assets when they die? Often, the assets will need to pass through probate. A California estate with assets of $150,000 or real property worth more than $20,000 will most likely need to go through the probate system.

If the decedent had a Will, then the executor of the Will files a probate with the court. However, if the decedent died intestate, (without a Will), the court will usually appoint an administrator who takes on the role of the executor. The main point is that a San Diego probate occurs with or without a Will.

The probate of an estate in San Diego takes place at the Central Division Probate Court located at 1409 Fourth Avenue, San Diego CA 92101. Even if you have a North County San Diego Probate, the probate will still take place downtown.

The actual probate process entails proving the validity of a Will (if there is a Will), appointing an executor or administrator, inventorying the estate property, appraising the estate property, alerting and paying creditors, paying taxes, and distributing the remaining property as put forth in the decedent’s will or in accordance with state law if the decedent died intestate.

Probate is a long, drawn out process that takes between nine and eighteen months. Some more complicated estates can take years, especially when there is a probate litigation involved. In order to move the probate process along as quick as possible, it is important that you seek out the counsel of an experienced San Diego probate lawyer, such as at the Law Offices of Jack B. Friedell.

Probate is public. Notice of the petition for probate is sent to all named beneficiaries of the Will and to anyone who would have received had the decedent died without a Will. In addition to virtually every family member receiving notice, the court documents are open to the public—meaning anyone can see what the assets are and where the assets are going.

If the decedent died without a Will in San Diego, the assets in the estate pass according to California’s intestate succession rules, governed by Probate Code § 6400. Essentially, when there is no Will in California, the deceased’s assets pass to any children, then parents, and on and on down the family tree.

Some ways to avoid probate in San Diego: 1. Prepare and fund a living trust. 2. Joint tenancy 3. Payable on death accounts. 4. Beneficiary designations on accounts such as life insurance, retirement accounts and IRAs.

There is also a more streamlined court supervised process for spouses and domestic partners in San Diego called a Spousal Property Petition.

Probate can be very expensive. Attorney fees are set by statute (CPC §10800) and are determined based on the value of the probate estate: 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; ½% of the next $15,000,000; the court will assign a reasonable amount on estates valued above $25,000,000. There are often additional fees from appraisers and CPAs. All told, a San Diego probate can run around five to six percent of the total value of the estate.

To consult with an experienced San Diego Probate attorney who can advise and guide you through the probate of an estate in California, or for any other questions regarding estate planning in San Diego, please contact the Law Offices of Jack B. Friedell today.

The authors, publisher and host are not providing legal, accounting, or specific advice to your situation.


Six reasons a Living Trust is superior to a Will in California.

Estate Planning 101: Living Trust versus a Will in California

Most people believe that a Will is all that is needed in order to pass on the assets in their estate. However, what most people fail to realize is that a Will is not going to be a sufficient California Estate Planning tool. That is because a Will comes up short in several key respects when compared to a Living Trust (also known as a Revocable Trust or Inter Vivos Trust).

Six reasons a Living Trust is superior to a Will in California.

1. A Trust avoids probate whereas a Will still goes through probate court.

A Will is simply a road map for the Probate Court to follow. A Will does not avoid probate; it simply directs the Probate Court judge on how you want your assets distributed upon your death. The judge will follow your wishes in your Will but your estate will still be on the hook for all probate related fees (such as attorney fees, CPA fees, appraisal fees, etc…). The total fees for the probate of an estate in California can be as high as 5-6% of the total value of the estate.

However, a Living Trust, set up by an experienced California Trust Attorney, avoids the entire probate process. That means the bulk of the assets will pass without any fees to the intended beneficiaries. It also means that there is no court involvement. Therefore, the value of a Living Trust is that it avoids probate fees and probate court. The small cost involved in setting up a properly funded Living Trust compared to the total savings a Trust provides by avoiding Probate is substantial.

2. A Trust can hold beneficiary assets whereas assets pass at age 18 with a Will

A Trust can be designed so that the assets pass to beneficiaries at a desired age. For example, a Trust can have language in it that gives 25% to a child upon completion of college, another 25% upon reaching age 25, with the remaining 50% at age 30. This allows a beneficiary to receive their inheritance in small chunks instead of in a bulk sum. Perhaps the beneficiary will have blown through the initial 25% and will be more disciplined in how they spend the next 25%.

However, with a Will, the beneficiary receives everything at age 18. That means a financially inexperienced teenager will receive their entire portion of the estate at 18. This can cause a lot of problems, including the beneficiary blowing through their entire inheritance.

3. California Trust Administration vs. California Probate

A typical California Trust Administration can take around three to nine months. That is assuming the Trust was created by an experienced California Trust Lawyer (some trust administrations can take a lot longer depending on the quality of the trust).

A typical California Probate can take anywhere from nine to eighteen months. Some more complicated probates can take years.

The bottom line is that the beneficiaries will receive their assets much quicker via a Trust than a Will.

4. A Living Trust is private whereas a Will is public

A Will is open to the public. In fact, notice of the decedent’s passing must be given to every beneficiary named in the Will and to every beneficiary who would have received had the deceased died intestate (without a Will). Further, anyone can access the probate court documents. There is absolutely no privacy with a California Probate.

A Trust is completely private. Notice of the decedent’s passing is given only to the heirs of the Living Trust. There is no court supervision, no court interaction and no public disclosure.

5. A Living Trust is harder to contest than a Will

Since a Will is open to the public and since notice is given to all named beneficiaries and to every beneficiary who would have received had the deceased died intestate, there is a much greater chance for a Contest by any potential heir who was left out of the Will.

However, due to the private nature of a Trust, there are very few parties involved. Therefore, there is less likelihood that anyone will Contest the Living Trust.

It is highly beneficial to avoid a California Will or Trust Contest because of the high cost associated with a Contest. Often, the cost of defending the Will or Trust Contest comes straight out of the assets of the estate, depleting the estate’s assets.

6. A Trust avoids court involvement at incapacity

In California, if a person becomes incapacitated, typically a member of the family petitions the Probate Court for a Conservatorship. This applies whether the incapacitated person has a Will or not. Then the Court decides who the appropriate Conservator will be.

A properly created Living Trust will list a Successor Trustee (as well as one or two backups). The Successor Trustee will take over for the Trustor upon the Trustor’s incapacity. There is no court involvement and the Trustor gets to choose the person and not the court.

One final note: a Will is still necessary when creating an estate plan. The Trust will hold all of the assets in the estate. However, every good Trust needs a “Pour Over Will” to grab any assets outside of the Trust and “pour” the assets back into the Living Trust. An experienced California estate planning lawyer will almost always recommend a Will to compliment a Living Trust.

In summary, the small price involved in setting up a California Revocable Trust far outweighs the time and money saved by avoiding probate. For questions on the above content or for any other legal advice dealing with California Living Trusts, an experienced North County San Diego will and trust attorney can help. Please contact the Law Offices of Jack B. Friedell today.

The authors, publisher and host are not providing legal, accounting, or specific advice to your situation.