In what county do I hire a Probate Attorney?

The legal term for “where” a probate action occurs is called the “venue.” So, what is the proper venue for your probate action?

Yesterday was “Suicide Prevention Awareness Day.” As a sad irony, my friend called me to tell me that his mother wrote a note, went into the hillsides of the Los Padres National Forest, and ended her life. I could tell that he had not yet permitted himself to grieve because he was already asking me how to probate the estate through his tears. His attention was on his duty to his mother rather than addressing the wounds she caused when she left so suddenly.

Where to file your first probate action

If the deceased owns real estate in multiple states, you may have to open multiple probate actions. The most appropriate location to file your first probate action is in the county where the deceased person made their home. (Prob. Code, § 7051.) (domicile controls venue, not the place of death.) The “domicile” determines the appropriate venue for all personal property. That court has the authority to grant Administrator or Executor status, and that order is effective throughout the State of California but not beyond the state’s borders.

Because your attorney will make in-person appearances (often on your behalf), you want an attorney who lives and operates close to the county courthouse. If the deceased person lived in Kern County, then Bakersfield attorneys are most appropriate because the Probate Division for Kern County meets at 1215 Truxtun Avenue in Bakersfield, California. However, if the deceased lived somewhere in Ventura County, an Oxnard attorney is most appropriate because the probate court is room J6 at 4353 E. Vineyard Avenue, Oxnard, California.

Where to file for additional actions. . .

Don’t worry about where to file your second action until you have already obtained a lawyer for your first probate action. Once you have started your first action in the county where the deceased person lived, you can ask that attorney if the second action in another state or county would be appropriate.

If the person who died was not domiciled in California at the time of their death, you would choose the county of death or any county where the deceased owned property. (Prob. Code, § 7052.) A person can only have one domicile. So, if the deceased had a home in South Carolina and a vacation home in California, the domicile is likely South Carolina. An attorney can help you determine which state or county is the “domicile” of the deceased based on the facts of your situation.

How much is all this going to cost?

Don’t worry about the cost. The good news is that in California probate fees are statutory. That means that all attorneys are limited to the same fixed cost for handling the estate. Because fees are limited, you can focus more on the quality of service rather than price. Ask questions such as:

  • Does the attorney work with a Professional Administrator who could take over if you decide that there is too much work involved?
  • What percentage of the attorney’s work is from Probate actions?
  • If there are no objections, how long should it take for you to receive “Letters”?

Answers to these questions will help you identify which attorneys actually specialize in Probate and which are just fishing for “easy cases.” (They usually discover that the cases are not as easy as they thought, which leads to unwarranted delays.)

Who do I call for Bakersfield Probate?

If you need an attorney in Bakersfield to open probate for you, call Coleman & Horowitt at 661-325-1300. Schedule an initial consultation. The Bakersfield Office at Coleman & Horowitt works with a professional administrator, has a paralegal who has spent 80% of her time working with the probate court for the last 20 years, and can usually get letters of administration issued within two months if there are no objections. Talk to your attorney before filing to see if these timelines remain accurate.