Probate technically means to “prove a will.” When a person dies testate in California — that is, with a will — the will is filed in the probate court in the county courthouse. The filing and administrative work is done by the executor, who is the personal representative appointed in the will. When filing the will, the executor takes an oath to act as a faithful fiduciary in the interests of the estate during the probate process.
At the top of the hierarchy in the probate courts is the probate court judge. A probate judge does not have to participate in the administration of each and every will but will be there in case a dispute or complication arises. In most estates, the executor works with the estate attorney to process all the papers, pay the appropriate bills and ultimately to distribute the assets to the beneficiaries slated in the will.
At the distribution point, the executor obtains a release and refunding bond from each of the beneficiaries. This essentially is an affirmation by the beneficiary that the executor has provided a detailed final accounting of the financial transactions and status of the estate and that the beneficiary approves the intended final distribution of assets. This basic process does not require the direct involvement of the probate judge.
There is a set procedure in California and each state for proving the will and taking the estate properly through to its conclusion. After filing the will and creating the estate, the probate process begins with an initial advertisement to potential creditors giving notice that they have a set period to present their claims to the executor or suffer loss of the claim. This phase sees the payment of the bills, obtaining appraisals where necessary, listing real estate for sale if it is so directed in the will and generally transferring all assets into cash funds that are deposited in the estate account. When all expenses are paid, the final accounting is prepared and the remaining funds are distributed as the testator directed.