Probate and Trust Administration

If a loved one has passed away, we extend to you our deepest sympathy. We know this time is overwhelming, to say the least, and we are here to help you sort through the financial and practical matters that will need to be addressed.

First, you need to determine whether your loved one had an estate plan in place. If your loved one did not have a trust or estate plan in place, you will likely want to concentrate on the Probate section of this page.

If your loved one did have a trust and estate plan in place, you will want to concentrate on the Trust Administration section of this page.

If you aren’t sure what plans our loved one had in place if at all, don’t worry. Just give us a call and we can help you determine this, and what comes next. We invite you to call our warm and welcoming Client Services Director, Bonnie Johnson at (949) 718-0420 to schedule a time to meet with our team. You don’t have to navigate through this time-period alone. We are here to help you get through and have the resources and support you need.


Most families are surprised to learn that their family will likely have to go through a long and expensive court process known as Probate if their loved one has passed away without an estate plan.  The threshold for being subject to Probate in California is very low—meaning the loved one who has passed had $150,000 or more of assets that were not automatically transferred upon death through joint ownership or a beneficiary designation form.

Even if your loved one had a Will, unfortunately, the family will still be subject to Probate.  Having a Will in California does not avoid the probate process; it simply tells the Judge where you want your assets to go. This is one of the major reasons why families should create a revocable living trust beforehand, rather than just a Will, if they intend to avoid probate when a loved one passes away.

If your loved one has recently passed, and you suspect there was not a revocable living trust in place, we encourage you to talk with us to determine if probate is necessary. We can determine whether probate is necessary, help you understand your options, and guide you to your next best steps. We are here to make the process as easy as possible for you and provide you the support you need to move forward.

Key Characteristics of Probate

If Probate is necessary, your family will greatly benefit from our expertise and assistance. The Probate Process can be very complex.  It typically involves designating a family member or friend who will take charge, and hiring an attorney who can handle the legal procedures.

The Probate Process involves filing a Petition with the court to open up probate, requesting the probate court set a hearing date, providing notice of the hearing to interested parties, publishing a notice in the local paper, having the court probate examiner review the case, seek appointment of a family member or friend to be in charge (called the “Personal Representative or Executor”), requesting the appointment of guardians for any minor children left behind, locating and gathering assets, preparing an Inventory and Appraisal, working with the Probate Referee, providing formal notice to creditors, preparing a final personal income tax return, determining who will receive property and assets, selling real property, submitting a final estate tax return, providing an accounting to the court, and requesting payment for attorneys fees, executor fees, and any necessary court fees.

As you can see, Probate is a very involved process. It is also open and public, so anyone can see what assets are owned and who the beneficiaries by law will be. It is also a long process—roughly 12-18 months long, which adds a lot of stress and uncertainty to family and loved ones left behind. That is why it is critical to work with an attorney who can make the process as painless for you as possible.

Finally, probate is very expensive. The cost of a probate is statutory in nature and set by the California Probate Code. The attorney and executor fees in a probate are based on a percentage of the gross value of the estate. For example, on a home valued at $800,000, the statutory fee to the attorney and executor would be $8,000 on the first $100,000 of value; $6,000 on the next $100,000 of value; and $24,000 on the remaining $600,000 of value. The total fee of $38,000 is then split equally between the attorney of record and the Executor. There are other fees associated with a probate in California as well. Such fees typically include the petition filing fee to open the probate, publication fees, probate referee fees, and fees to the court for Certified Copies of Letters Testamentary. It is also noteworthy that the fees to the attorney and Executor are calculated on the gross fair market value of the property going through the probate without regard to any debt carried on the property. So, in our example above, the fee would be calculated on $800,000 even if the property only had $200,000 in equity.

Avoiding Probate 

Families can avoid Probate by setting up a Revocable Living Trust prior to losing mental capacity or passing away.  It’s important to plan early and avoid the probate process if you can.  However, not all of us are that fortunate.  If you suspect you may need to open Probate, we extend to you our warmest welcome and assure you we will do everything in our power to make the probate experience as easy as possible. We encourage you to call our friendly and compassionate Client Services Director, Bonnie Johnson at (949) 718-0420 to help you get scheduled to meet with us to determine whether probate is necessary and if so, how we can assist.

Trust Administration

One of the greatest blessings our loved one can leave us when they pass away is a family estate plan that lays out what needs to be done, where assets will go, and who will be in charge.  If your loved one has an estate plan, consider yourself fortunate.  Without this, many families learn they will have to go through a long and expensive court process known as probate.

The Trust Administration process can be very smooth, quick, and efficient. Sometimes though, there can be snags if the assets were not all moved into the trust during your loved one’s lifetime, or if there is family discord. It is important to seek guidance early on so everyone understands their role and the wishes left behind by your loved one through their estate plan.

We can help you handle the complete administration of the Trust.  Our role will largely depend on how much assistance the Successor Trustee (the person named in the Trust to be in charge) needs or desires. Even if there is a surviving spouse, it is important to understand whether the trust requires you to take any action today.  Typically, there is some level of action that is necessary. Because of time-sensitive deadlines, it’s important to seek guidance early.

The best place to start the Trust Administration process is to schedule a Planning Session with us, where we can provide you a free trust review, and help you determine your obligations as the Successor Trustee.  Even if we did not set up your loved one’s estate plan, we can still administer it for you.

We warmly invite you to contact our friendly Client Services Director, Bonnie Johnson, at (949) 718-0420 to help you schedule a Planning Session. We will need the surviving spouse, or the Successor Trustee to attend the session.  Additional family members are welcome at the surviving spouse or Successor Trustee’s invitation.

What Does a Successor Trustee Do?

When you are named as a Successor Trustee, it means you are the one who is designated to handle the financial and practical decisions once the original trustee (usually the person who created the trust) has passed away.

Being a Successor Trustee comes with great trust and responsibility. You are the person that your loved one knew they could count on to carry out their wishes, follow the rules, and keep peace in the family. 

It’s natural to feel overwhelmed as a Successor Trustee as you try to carry out your duties faithfully while dealing with your own personal grief over your loss of a loved one. That’s where we can help.

Our role as your Trust Administration attorney is to help you carry out your duties as Successor Trustee so everything can be handled quickly and efficiently, ensure your loved one’s wishes are honored, and you can focus on other important matters. 

When your loved one passes away, it’s important to know what steps should be taken.  The Trust Administration process involves important financial decisions and deadlines, some of which are time sensitive.  Don’t worry though, we can help you meet your obligations as Successor Trustee, so you don’t have to handle this on your own.

To have a better understanding of what your duties include, we can send you a complete list of the duties you must faithfully carry out as the Successor Trustee.  Simply click here and we will send it to you. But remember, these are duties we can handle for you. 

Your Next Best Steps

Whether you are facing a Probate or a Trust Administration, we can help your family get through this difficult time and provide you outstanding and compassionate legal care.  Our entire team is here to assist you and provide you the best possible outcome.

We warmly invite you to contact our friendly Client Services Director Bonnie Johnson at (949) 718-0420 to schedule a planning session where we can help you understand your options and get started on handling your loved one’s estate.