After a California resident dies, their assets will automatically belong to their estate. The estate must be settled through the probate court process unless the decedent established a trust and funded it with all of their assets. While trusts allow assets to be passed outside of the probate process, most people either have wills or die without wills. In those cases, probate will likely be unavoidable.
Why a probate account is important
To settle a decedent’s estate, either the executor named in the will or the administrator appointed by the court will use some of the deceased person’s assets to pay the debts, taxes, and administration costs before the remainder can be distributed. This process is best completed by opening a probate account to keep the estate’s finances separate from the executor’s or administrator’s finances. Opening a probate account and using it to pay all of the expenses related to the estate helps to show where the money has gone and prevent potential conflicts.
How to open a probate account
If you were named as the executor of the decedent’s estate or have been appointed as the estate administrator, you can take the following steps to open a probate account:
- Get several copies of the decedent’s death certificate from the state
- Open a probate case with the court to obtain letters of testamentary or letters of administration to prove you have the authority to act on behalf of the estate
- Apply for a tax ID number by completing Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Form SS-4 online
- Take the death certificate, letters of testamentary or administration, and the tax ID number to a bank with your identity documents and open a probate account.
Once you have opened a probate account, you can fund it with the decedent’s assets. Only use funds from that account to pay the decedent’s creditors, taxes, court fees, and other associated costs of administering the estate. At the close of the estate, you will then distribute the remaining assets to the decedent’s will beneficiaries or heirs.