The question of where to file probate for a California bank account, when the person who died lived in another state or country, brings into play what are called the ancillary probate rules.  Ancillary probate essentially means there are assets in two “states” and by state that could include a foreign nation.

In cases where there is real estate in California the place to file an ancillary probate is quite clear.  The ancillary probate would be filed in the county where real property is located.

EXPERT TIP: What if there are pieces of real property in TWO counties in California but the decedent died in another state?  You can file in EITHER county so, obviously, pick the one that is more efficient at operating a probate!  We practice in all counties of California and have extensive experience.  There can be a VERY large discrepancy between counties. So in a case like this, where you can choose, talk to an expert to choose wisely!  A probate could take 7 months in some counties and 17, or more, months in other counties… and you’ll pay the same either way!

What about when there is no real property but just personal property such as a bank account?  Typically banks will honor letters from the home state though some banks require that they have a branch in that state.  I recently had a case where the decedent lived in a foreign country with a bank account at a large bank.  Without specifying which bank, exactly, let’s just say it was something like a Bank of America, Chase, Wells Fargo, et al. That is, a very large bank!

In the case of a large bank that has branches in every, or almost every, county in California we can venue shop.   We would help a client like this to select a county that is EFFICIENT.  Typically the smaller to mid-size counties are the most efficient and easiest to work with in our opinion.  In northern California we might work with a Placer or Yolo county.  In Southern California we might choose a Ventura or Kern. Again, the bank has to have a branch in that county!

If you have an ancillary probate situation – with real property or personal property – contact us to discuss!

-John Palley

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