What is Probate?

The History of Probate

Originally, probate meant proving that a will was the last true will of a person who passed away. An individual can make many wills or other testamentary documents over his or her lifetime. It is up to the probate court to determine which document was the last true will or other testamentary document. Depending on which document is found to be the last true testamentary, there can be a vast monetary impact to the people concerned.

What is Probate Today?

However, the definition of probate has changed over time. The reason for this change is that although they occur, a genuine will contest or trust contest is rare. Typically, there is no dispute about what is the last true will or last true trust of an individual who has passed away because the methods of authenticating documents have improved over time. Such improvements include, but are not limited to, the notarization process that can require a fingerprint, a doctor’s letter that may establish the legal capacity to sign legal documents, the retention of the all predecessor documents by counsel, and/or video taping of the signing process.

Because the legal landscape has changed over time, the definition of probate has also been transformed. What originally began as a contest among competing documents has become a court-supervised process, which is intended to protect beneficiaries of an estate. Therefore, the structure of the process has also significantly changed. In the probate process, the protections to beneficiaries include: written notice of all proceedings, publication of the proceedings in the local legal newspaper, the appointment of an independent probate referee to appraise all the property, notice to all concerned parties of the sale of real property, the bonding of the personal representatives of the estate and formal accountings using a double entry bookkeeping protocol that is accurate to the last penny.
The Law Offices of David Baker has navigated these processes many times in the past 30 years while working in probate and estate planning. We work in the following California Bay Area locations: San Francisco, Berkeley, Albany, Pinole, Crockett, Martinez, El Sobrante, El Cerrito, Vallejo and Richmond. Call us or contact us today to discuss your situation (510) 724-2020.
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