When someone dies, a representative must be authorized to marshal the decedent’s assets, to oversee the settlement of the decedent’s debts and taxes, and to make distribution of the estate in accordance with the decedent’s testamentary wishes. In California, the person who takes charge and the procedures for carrying out these responsibilities depend on whether the decedent made a will, a trust, or did nothing. Probate is a court proceeding to administer the financial affairs of a deceased individual and to determine their last testamentary wishes. If the decedent made a will, the court rules on the validity of the will and appoints an executor. Heirs and beneficiaries are given a brief opportunity to contest the validity of a proposed will. Creditors are given a brief opportunity to file claims. After all contests and claims are resolved or satisfied, distribution is made free and clear to the beneficiaries of the will. If the decedent died without a will, the estate is administered and distributed for the benefit of the decedent’s heirs.
A living person with diminished mental capacity may require the appointment of a representative to assist with their finances and personal care. Diminished mental capacity may result from aging, injury or disease. A Conservatorship is a court proceeding designed to protect an individual who can no longer protect him or herself due to advanced age or trauma. If the court determines that the party to be protected is substantially unable to provide for their personal care or to manage their finances, the court appoints a conservator to act as the representative for the protected party, the conservatee. The conservator is charged with the responsibility of overseeing the personal and medical care of the conservatee and is authorized to transact business on behalf of the conservatee. The Conservator is required to file annual accountings and reports.
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