Creditors are people and businesses to whom a decedent owed money at the time of death. Creditors must act swiftly after a debtor dies to assert claims or their claims will be time-barred and lost. If you’re a creditor, you need to act swiftly to protect your rights. Don’t delay.

What Happens at a Probate Hearing?

Probate is the legal process used to distribute property and assets following someone’s death. Probate involves many different players — family members, friends, loved ones, attorneys, executors of wills — all coming together for one common goal: to settle this person’s affairs according to their wishes and ensure they’ve left no loose ends behind. Probate can be complicated, so it’s imperative that you seek out qualified legal counsel before taking any action. 

What are the stages of probate?

There are four basic stages of probate. Each step in the process is detailed in the sections below. 

Stage One — Petition and Notices

Probate begins when a petition to open probate is filed with the Superior Court in the county where the deceased person resided. Once the petition has been received, the court will set a hearing date. All interested persons (the personal representative, heirs, beneficiaries named in the will, and creditors) will receive notice of the date and time of the hearing. 

Stage Two — The First Hearing

At the first hearing, the court will appoint the estate’s personal representative, unless their appointment is contested. If the deceased person left a will that identified a specific person as their executor, the court must approve and finalize the appointment. If the court does not approve or if the individual does not want to serve as the executor, the court may need to appoint someone else. Once a personal representative is accepted, the court will issue Letters Testamentary, which is a legal document that allows the executor to access estate assets and otherwise administer the estate.

Stage Three — Estate Administration 

After the personal representative receives Letters Testamentary, they are responsible for collecting all of the deceased personal assets that are subject to probate. The executor will then be required to submit an inventory of the estate property to the court. 

Once the assets have been inventoried, the personal representative must provide notice of the death to all of the deceased’s creditors. Creditors with outstanding debts can submit claims and receive payment from the inventoried assets. Under California law, creditors must submit claims within four months of the executor’s appointment.

The personal representative must also ensure that state and federal estate taxes are paid before distributing any assets to heirs. 

Stage Four — Final Distribution

After the personal representative has completed all of their responsibilities, they will file a Petition for Final Distribution with the court, which will require a later hearing to be held. At this hearing, the personal representative will provide a detailed accounting regarding the use of estate assets. The judge will review this information to ensure all of the legal requirements were met. Once the judge determines that the estate has been appropriately administered, they will sign the Petition for Final Distribution and close the estate.


We have decades of experience getting results for people like you. Our team will listen to you, investigate your claims, develop a strategy aimed at accomplishing your goals efficiently and cost-effectively, whether that’s through negotiated resolution, formal mediation or trial, so that you can move on with your life. Schedule a free consultation, or give us a call.  


We represent beneficiaries, heirs, administrators, executors, trustees and conservators/conservatees in cases involving disputing a will or trust, claims of breach of fiduciary duty, fiduciary misconduct and fraud, investment mismanagement, financial elder abuse, incapacity, and undue influence.


Stepping into the role of “Personal Representative” to handle your loved one’s trust, will, or probate estate can be an overwhelming experience. We have decades of experience helping individual and institutional administrators, executors, and trustees fulfill all their duties efficiently and cost-effectively. Although just a summary, below are many of the things we can help you with, and we’re always happy to answer your questions.


When your loved one is incapable of handling their affairs, whether financial or their own care, it may be time to consider a judicial conservatorship of the person (personal health and welfare of the conservative) or conservatorship of the estate (care of the conservatee’s finances), especially where your loved one may be the subject of financial or elder abuse. Often family members believe that a power of attorney or healthcare power may be sufficient, but often they are wrong. Sadly, even more often the person who holds those powers is the one abusing the loved one. Whether you need help analyzing whether a conservatorship is warranted, or need help defending against a frivolous conservatorship action, we can help.


Financial elder abuse is one of the fastest growing areas of law, affecting one of the most vulnerable sectors of our society. California’s elder abuse statutes provide extra protections to those 65 years of age and older who were victimized by the fraud or theft of another, most often a “loved one” who takes advantage of mom, dad, aunt, uncle, grandma or grandpa’s incapacity. We have successfully prosecuted and defended hundreds of financial elder abuse cases. 

Our Case Results

RMO has a proven track record of protecting people and defending legacies.



Trust Amendment Invalidated for Undue Influence
After trial, awarded a seven-figure judgment, plus attorney’s fees and costs on behalf of the elderly niece of the decedent, where auntie’s neighbor/caregiver used undue influence to connive her way into becoming the primary beneficiary of her trust shortly before she passed.
Defense of Trustee Against Breach of Fiduciary Duty for Imprudent Investments
Defended the successor trustee of a family trust against claims from his brother that he had breached his fiduciary duty to invest trust assets prudently when a concentrated commodity position he amassed lost essentially all its value swiftly. The probate court denied the charge on evidence presented by RMO that the trust’s broad investment powers and the deceased settlor’s speculative investment meant there the investment loss could not constitute a breach.
Recovery of Stolen Trust Property + Double Damages and Attorney’s Fees
Representing the successor professional fiduciary trustee, secured a seven-figure probate court judgment, plus double damages, attorney’s fees and costs in recovering real property that had been transferred and stolen by an unscrupulous trust beneficiary.
Addressing Grandma’s Stolen Home
On behalf of the granddaughter administrator of grandma’s probate estate, secured a judgment against grandma’s daughter and son-in-law to recover title to grandma’s home and monies wrongfully withdrawn against the property.
Dependent Adult Financial Abuse Remedied
Secured the intestate probate estate of our clients, the rightful heirs of their cousin’s estate, who had fallen prey to an ex-con drug dealer “friend” who had coerced the cousin to sign will documents while dying in his hospital bed.
Thieving Neighbor’s Financial Elder Abuse Rectified, With Double Damages
Representing the institutional successor trustee of a family trust, obtained a financial elder abuse judgment against a neighbor “friend” abuser who had taken significant sums of money from an elderly man just months before he died, including double damages interest, attorney’s fees and costs.
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Jurisdiction ≠ Forum Non Convenience
In a published opinion, obtained reversal of a lower court decision confusing jurisdiction with forum non conviens, re-establishing the trust beneficiary’s right to continue prosecuting his fraud, undue influence, and financial elder abuse claims.
Settlement Approved, Confirmed and Enforced
Represented trustee, at trial and on appeal, to enforce a settlement agreement addressing his co-trustee’s a breach of fiduciary duties, after the offending co-trustee fraudulently claimed he had satisfied his obligations under the agreement.
Trust Contest Win Buttressed
Successfully defended trustee and sole beneficiary against trust contest by disinherited heir. Then, when the trial judge erroneously entered judgment creating potential exposure for subsequent litigation, prevailed on appeal to modify the judgment to insulate the trustee from any possible further litigation.
Life Insurance Proceeds Confirmed as Trust Asset
Represented trustee of irrevocable trust in a published appellate decision confirming the trust could be funded properly with life insurance proceeds even though all formalities typically required by the terms of the life insurance policy had not been satisfied.
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