WHAT IS 'PROBATE' AND WHEN DO I USE THAT PROCEDURE?
Probate is a court procedure that determines who will make decisions in an estate, makes sure all the bills are paid to the creditors (and the attorney's fees are paid), before any distribution of assets can legally be made.  

There are different types or levels of probate depending on what assets are in an estate and the value of them.  Each type has a different time-table, hence when you can take or make distribution of assets varies accordingly.


WHAT IF THERE IS A WILL, DO I STILL HAVE TO USE THE PROBATE COURT?

Yes.  Unless there is so little in an estate it falls below certain amounts and some more simple (but still a probate kind of) procedure is required.  A Will simply says who the testator wanted to handle the estate and who is to get anything from it.

 
WHAT IF THERE IS NO WILL? 
The first part of the above answer is still the same; however, in this case the Court decides who is going to handle the estate (be the administrator) and state law dictates who gets what from it.  By not having a Will the decedent has basically given up the right to make those decisions for him or herself.


WHAT IF THERE WAS A LIVING TRUST?     BINGO! 

No Probate Court, except in very rare instances, but it's a different set of circumstances usually surrounding someone trying to contest the Trust and it is very very difficult to do that, so it doesn't occur unless there are claims of something like incompetency on the part of the Grantor or someone is trying to defraud someone.  In 40 years, I've only had one such case and it was where two different people showed up with two different trusts, each supposedly executed on the same date, and Grantor's signature acknowledged by the same Notary.  Remember "White-Out"?  Well, that's what had been used.
 

In 99% of cases Living Trusts cost a couple hundred or few hundred dollars (depending on how many properties are in the trust) in administrative costs and recording fees to settle. Probate costs are typically many, many thousands of dollars (with attorneys) to settle and require lengthy delays before anyone gets anything.
 

The only good news about having to file a probate, which is rarely ever good news, is that I specialize in probate administration for 10-25% of what attorneys cost.  So if you gotta, and sometimes you do, save some money on it at least.  
 

As long as your probate proceeding is in California, it doesn't matter where you may live, as a beneficiary or executor, I will help you.

 
What if there is real property also in another state besides California?  Not a problem.  I have people you can work with on the out-of-state property, while I help you settle the California estate.
 

How about properties outside of

California in a Living Trust?

Even less of a problem.  In fact, as long as the properties are in the U.S., the Trust takes care of them.