Most California residents have probably heard references to probate but may not fully understand exactly what this is or what happens during the probate process. Understanding this is important for anyone looking to make or update an estate plan. It is also important for anyone who may be a beneficiary to another person’s estate in California to know what to expect.

The Balance explains that probate may be required after a person dies either without any estate plan in place or with a will in place. Generally, probate is not required when a person has established a trust. At the outset of the probate process, an executor or administrator of the estate is identified. If there was a will, this person may have been identified in that document. The validity of any estate plan will also be reviewed.

From there, the decedent’s assets and liabilities are identified and valued. This allows the executor or administrator to see the full value of the estate and what debts, if any, are owed. All bills are then paid and final tax returns are filed. The last step in the probate process is distributing any remaining assets to the heirs or beneficiaries.

NerdWallet adds that since California is a community property state, if a married person dies and has no children, the surviving spouse may assume ownership of all assets and debts. It is also important for people to know that probate is a completely public process and the details of it can be accessed by anyone.