Another chapter from the unpublished probate book #2. Remember you can get my first California probate book on Amazon.
Chapter 9 – Filing a California Probate
Once you have the documents ready you then have to physically file them in the proper probate court. This is different from county to county so you need to call the probate court clerk to confirm the procedure. A few counties are e-file ONLY. A few are e-file optional. A few do not allow e-filing at all. A few allow e-filing for some documents. I am not putting a list here as this is constantly in flux.
I can give countless stories, over the years, but an example recently was in Santa Clara county. They have mandatory e-filing and you are supposed to pick your date up front before you file… but then it takes an unknown number of days to process. The first time we filed we didn’t give enough time before our selected court date so we had to revise with a new date picked. Of course we picked a date a little further out to avoid that problem again. This was the most cumbersome filing we have had in a long while. The key is every court is different and even when you ask all the right questions there might be a problem.
Again, remember the proper county to file is the county where the decedent resided at death. A few counties have multiple courthouses. At the time of writing I believe those counties are: Riverside, Los Angeles and El Dorado. In those counties you need to file in the proper court within the county which is generally based on which city, or area, the decedent lived. Filing in the wrong courthouse can be a minor, or a major, hassle depending on the exact situation. However, get it right the first time and avoid the hassle and delay of fixing the filing!
In addition to getting the forms and courthouse right we have a statewide “uniform fee schedule” in California but different counties charge differently. “What?” You ask, “I thought you just said the word uniform and statewide!?” That’s correct it’s not at all uniform around the state even though they call it a uniform fee schedule. It was much worse before that fee schedule went into place though! As I write this the standard fee for filing a normal probate, statewide, is $435. However, some charge a $40 “court reporter fee” while most counties do not. Since most probate courts do not have a court reporter it makes little sense to charge a court reporter fee, right!? Anyway, check with your county before writing your check.
Filing yourself in person is the best… unless it’s an E-file only county of course. I say this because mailing documents can cause documents to sit in a pile for a month in some counties. Do not just mail your documents in and assume the court will get it done for you. Also, if you do mail or FedEx the filing make sure to include a large stamped return envelope or you might never get your documents back. Include your phone and email too as some court clerks will contact you to tell you there is a problem… but don’t rely on that because not many will do that in my experience.
The point is you need to call the probate court clerk and try to figure out exactly what documents are needed to file, how much, what procedures are used, and also ask if you pick the court date or the court picks the court date. Each county can be different in all of these things. Also, different clerks do things differently. Be sure you talk to the probate court clerk and if that person doesn’t sound confident in their answers ask to talk to someone else. You need to talk to the main clerk to get the best answer. Of course, keep track of you who to talk to as you would any business calls.