People are often confused on this one. How do you lodge a will in a California probate? Many people, over the years, have asked if you file the will with the county clerk or with the county recorder. The correct answer is you lodge a will with the California Superior Court in the county of residence of the decedent.
So this last sentence has a few components to break down.
Notice I said you “lodge” a will. You do NOT “file” a will. What’s the difference? If you go to the courthouse and say you want to “file” a will they will do just that. They will add the will to the actual case file. In the case of the few courts that still do paper files they’ll bury the original will in the final like any other document. If they are electronic they will scan the will and then discard the original. I assume they do not discard right away but I do not know what. I would not take this chance. You want to LODGE the will.
The California Superior Court is the primary court in California. Each county has a central courthouse which is typically where the court clerk is located. However, many counties have separate probate divisions so check with the county to make sure you go to the right place.
The county of residence is straightforward for most people. That is, if you have a loved one who lived in Woodland, CA their whole life and remained there at death it is pretty clear they were a resident of Yolo county, California at death and thus filing at the Yolo county courthouse in Woodland is the proper place to go. However, what if a person lived, and owned a house, at death in Citrus Heights, CA (Sacramento county) but they died at a hospital in Roseville, CA which is located in Placer county? Sacramento is correct. What if they owned a house in Citrus Heights but died at a nursing home in Roseville? What if they owned a house in Citrus Heights, but had rented it out prior to death, and were living at a nursing home in Roseville? Each fact can change where a person’s “residence” was at death. In some cases you might actually have a choice.
Talk with an experienced probate attorney before you lodge the will in a courthouse! Let’s get it right to start! In cases where you have a choice there can be strategic reasons why one county is better than another. Most notably some counties are considerably quicker to finish probate than others. There are some counties we can still get a probate done in 7-8 months and there are others where it is 17-18 months if we are lucky!
This is not a place to dabble as your mistakes can be costly! Hire an experienced California probate attorney.
We serve ALL COUNTIES of California. Reach out to discuss your case!
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