What Happens if You Don’t File for Probate?

When someone dies without a will, a survivor of the decedent files for probate, which in California requires submitting the completed petition for probate form and the decedent’s death certificate.

Probate is the court-supervised process for identifying and gathering the decedent’s assets; paying taxes, debts, and expenses; and distributing the balance to beneficiaries in accordance with the decedent’s Will or by the Probate Code rules on intestacy. In this article, we will explore the consequences of failing to file for probate in California and the implications it can have on family members.

Choosing Not to File

When a person passes away, their assets and debts become a matter of legal concern. In the absence of a will or other estate planning documents, in essence the court can freeze the decedent’s assets so that the estate representative can file an inventory of the monetary assets and an appraisal of the real property and non-cash assets.  Delaying that process can have significant implications for the heirs and surviving family members.

The probate process facilitates the proper distribution of the deceased person’s assets among their heirs. Delaying or refusing to start the probate process delays the proper distribution process, leaving heirs without access to their rightful inheritance.

The surviving family may find themselves in a difficult situation when probate is not initiated promptly. Without access to the deceased person’s assets, they may struggle to cover immediate expenses, such as funeral costs, bills and other financial obligations leading to the possible loss of financed assets

Your Responsibility

While it may be tempting to avoid the complexities of probate, not filing for probate in California can have severe consequences. Without a formal legal process to manage the deceased person’s estate, the distribution of assets becomes uncertain, which can result in disputes among heirs.

Additionally, the failure to initiate probate or the intentional delay in filing can result in there are legal repercussions: civil sanctions such as fines, interest or penalties which can strain the estate’s assets.  Improper use or retention of a deceased person’s assets can, in extreme cases, even result in criminal charges, highlighting the seriousness of the obligations when handling a deceased person’s estate.

Navigating the responsibilities of administering an estate need not be daunting.  The law provides that you may hire an attorney to assist in probate administration of the estate, with the attorney’s fees to be paid by order of the court from the decedent’s estate and not ultimately out of your pocket.

With so much at stake, you will want legal guidance. Contact The Kiken Group when you are seeking assistance for a decedent’s estate from a Probate attorney in Orange County, Riverside or Los Angeles counties.

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