Who should be notified when Probate begins in California and whose duty is it to notify them?
Under California law, the entire world must be notified when probate begins in California, and it is the named executor’s job to do so, or the person filing to open probate. But how do you notify the world? It all starts with publication. When a Petition for Probate is filed, where an interested party seeks to open probate in California, the law requires that notice of the petition be given by mail to all “interested parties.” The interested parties include everyone named in the Will in any manner (including successor executors who are not going to act), and all heirs-at-law of the decedent even if they have been disinherited under the Will.
Newspaper Publication of Probate
Notice is further given by publication of notice in a newspaper. The newspaper publication is meant to give the entire world notice of the probate being opened so that any interested parties or creditors can file their claims in court. It may seem a bit old fashioned to give notice in a newspaper, but that is the legal requirement to open a probate. And the newspaper publication can be quite expensive, usually costing around $500 (newspapers know the deal—and they charge you for it). Once the publication is ran in the paper for several weeks, you then have to file proof of publication with a copy of the notice included.
Why give all these different types of notice?
The reason is simple, once the probate estate is opened, various rights will be cut off. For example, once a Will is admitted to probate, it is deemed a valid Will. That means if anyone wants to contest the Will, the contest must be brought before the Will is admitted to probate. Failure to do so could cause a loss of rights that may never be reinstated.
Further, creditor’s of the decedent must file a claim with the probate estate within four months after the estate is opened and Letters Testamentary are issued to the executor. While creditor’s are supposed to receive notice from the executor, they still have a four month deadline even if no creditor’s notice is given.
In other words, two of the most important groups (creditors and beneficiaries) could have significant rights forever barred if they fail to act. So the law imposes a burden on the person opening the probate estate to notice everyone in the world through mailed notice and publication. This gives all interested parties a fair chances to appear in the probate estate action and assert whatever rights they have.
Probate Claims are Time Sensitive
By the way, if you happen to be an interested party to a probate estate (beneficiary, heir-at-law, creditor, etc.) and you learn of a probate estate being opened, you better act fast. Do not sit on your rights and assume that you will receive what you are owed. It never hurts to appear at the probate hearing and file whatever is required to assert your claims. Even if the executor agrees that you are owed something from the estate, documenting that right is critically important because once the deadlines pass, your right may be forever barred. So play it safe and file something.
Finally, every interested person has the right to file with the court to request special notice of all court proceedings. There are times when you may not fit within the statutory class of people entitled to notice of a certain court action. You may qualify for notice on some things, but not others. By filing for special notice it obligates all parties, including the executor, to mail you notification of all court actions taking place. Once you file for special notice, you must receive a copy of every court action regardless of whether you would otherwise be entitled to notice or not. The request for special notice form is easy to fill out and file with the court. Take advantage of this procedure so you don’t miss out on anything happening in the probate estate.