When someone passes away, family members often find themselves asking an Orange County estate planning attorney what they should do and how to go about finding the assets of an estate in California.

If the individual had a trust, then there will likely be a schedule of assets that goes along with the trust.  This is literally a list of assets attached to the end of the trust documents. However, this is not necessarily a saving grace.

The primary reason is that this schedule is often outdated and not accurate. In addition, the successor trustee who is now in charge of the administration of the trust must demonstrate to the rest of the world that they have legal control over the assets that are in the trust. This does not happen automatically or simply because they are on a list or the assets are titled in the name of the trust. The successor trustee will need legal documents to establish their authority to take control of any accounts or assets in the trust.

Fortunately, an estate planning lawyer can help the trustee locate assets, create a list of assets, and prepare the necessary documents the trustee will need to take control of them.

If the person who passed away did not have any planning in place or only left just a will, then a probate process ensues. Most estates in Orange County, due to the low fair market value thresholds in California law, will have to go through a full probate as opposed to an informal probate (also known as a small estate probate) which is a process that occurs outside of court). The Superior Court of Orange County will appoint a personal representative who is in charge of taking care of each step in the process.

This can be an overwhelming process. Especially as one of the first things either the courts or the lawyer will tell the executor is that they need to create a list of assets.The personal representative will often make things a bit less overwhelming by hiring a local estate planning lawyer.

While having a trust in place will certainly help things run more smoothly, privately, and outside of court, regardless of whether there is a trust or not, there will be administrative tasks that have to be carried out. One of these is to get an accounting of the California estate.

Again, an experienced estate planning lawyer is incredibly helpful in compiling this list. He or she will have suggestions on where to look to find assets, accounts, insurance policies, etc. County records, for example, might offer insight into the ownership of property. The lawyer may be able to help uncover safe deposit boxes, outstanding payments due to the estate, and much more. The internet can also be a useful tool because it can offer access to unclaimed property.

A particularly frustrating situation can arise when a potential heir was not involved in the distribution of a loved one’s estate. He or she may have to use various methods to determine how any inheritance was distributed and even get the courts involved if it appears that things were not done properly. This is a difficult, but sometimes necessary undertaking and should definitely be done with the guidance of an experienced Orange County estate planning lawyer for several reasons:

  1. The lawyer will have the legal expertise necessary to set things in motion.
  2. The lawyer will be able to communicate with other attorneys involved in the case.
  3. An estate planning lawyer can help steer clients clear of scams that are intended to look like resources that should be helpful.
  4. The lawyer will know where to look to uncover what has become of various assets.

Whether you are a successor trustee or personal representative tasked with compiling a list of an estate’s assets or you are a concerned party who may have been mistreated in the distribution of the estate, it is a good idea to see how an Orange County estate planning lawyer may be able to help you get things cleared up and on track. If you need help getting started, contact our Irvine law firm at (949) 333-3702 to schedule a consultation.

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Kevin Snyder is a husband, father, and an attorney at Snyder Law, PC in Irvine, California. He’s all about family and passionate about estate planning, elder law, and veterans. He founded Snyder Law to help families from Orange County, Los Angeles County, and Southern California plan to protect what matters most: their loved ones, their dignity, and their legacy.

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