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Answers from Our Experienced Murrieta Estate Planning Attorneys

The team at Messina & Hankin is often asked these questions by clients seeking our counsel. Our firm proudly serves Orange County, Riverside County, and the surrounding areas.

Please contact us online or call (951) 363-2134 if your question is not answered below. 

  • John A. Messina Esq.

    • What made you choose a career in law?

      Before reaching the ripe old age of 25 I was tasked with resolving a complex real estate matter involving my parent’s commercial real estate. A real estate developer had purchased my folk’s commercial building as part of a 1031 Tax Deferred Exchange. In partial payment, the developer traded commercial property he owned on Melrose Avenue; he retained a master lease with an Option to Purchase. Close to the time the lease was to expire my parents discovered he had torn the face off the building and a long-term tenant leased a large percentage of the building at below-market rent because of the tenant and condition of the building was greatly below what my parents were expecting—the developer planned it this way. Initial discussions with various attorneys lead my parents to believe they had no choice but to acquiesce to the developer scheme. I initiated my own investigation and gathered evidence proving the developer had committed fraud.

      Armed with this additional information, gathered after months of work, I went on the hunt for a new attorney who could right what I perceived to be a serious wrong. Working together with our attorney, we forced a settlement where the developer paid my parents what they originally expected and paid their attorney fees. It is this personal experience that leads me to believe I had found my calling as a litigation attorney specializing in the tough complex matters avoided by most legal practitioners.

    • In your opinion, what sets your firm apart from other firms in the area?

      John C. Maxwell wrote, “A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” The attorneys at our firm are Leaders; we know the way from years of real-world experience and apply what we’ve learned to successfully navigate our clients through to lucrative settlements, solid business agreements, and winning litigation. As Leaders, we use our experience and acumen to lead the way, allowing our clients to take solace knowing they have hired the most knowledgeable, creative, hard-working, and caring legal professionals to handle their most pressing challenges.

    • What is a case you're particularly proud of?

      While there are many, my favorite cases always start with a common theme, someone telling me, “you can’t do that.” In a particularly contentious eminent domain case involving the complete taking of our client’s property, I sought to introduce an economist to opine on the value of the taking. In eminent domain cases, MAI Appraisers are used to give opinions of value—there were already five being used and their opinions varied by seven figures. I decided to go out-of-the box, with the full support of our client, and brought the economist in as an expert. Days before trial, and motions in limine to exclude my expert already in hand, the governmental entity settled for an amount close to that expected at trial. Our client was very pleased with the result, the amount exceeded that approximated by other eminent domain attorneys, and pushing the envelope once again paid off.

    • What steps do you take to prepare for a difficult case?

      We start preparing for trial the minute we take the case in the door. While most cases never go to trial, we prepare like it will and never, as a result, negotiate from a place of weakness. Because our firm’s attorneys are well-versed in our field, we consistently discuss each case from beginning to end. Our clients are not double-billed for the time we spend discussing our case with each other; our fervent desire to optimize our client’s outcome drives us to explore any vulnerabilities and strengthen our case against any attack.

    • How do you view your role in the attorney-client relationship?

      As trusted, caring, and respected leaders. We strive every day to earn our clients’ trust. We do this by remaining knowledgeable in our field and always do what we say we are going to do. Our clients want to turn their problem over to someone who will alleviate their fears and concerns; someone who will lead them to an optimum result—our role is to lead and deliver.

    • What sets you apart from other attorneys? Why is this important?

      My reputation is that of a bulldog, and once I sink my teeth into something I do not let go. I have an innate ability of sensing when something is missing and will press and investigate until I find the source of my uneasiness. Once I start something I take it to the end with no regrets that I could have done more.

      My practical experience as a private pilot, PADI SCUBA Instructor, California Reserve Deputy Sheriff with the Rank of R, Captain, Tribal Court Judge, CA real estate broker, mortgage banker, real estate developer, licensed embalmer and funeral director, and manufacturing design engineer, sets me far apart from other attorneys. As an example, as a contract design engineer in aerospace, I excelled by taking on extremely difficult and challenging assignments and I exited the field with an Achievement Award from Northrup for my part of a small team that designed and fabricated an infra-red periscope for the U.S. Navy called NESSIE (Naval Experimental Sensor System for Infra-red Evaluation).

    • How does having experience benefit your clients?

      My training to become a lawyer is far beyond academic. Rarely do I encounter a case or matter where I do not have some real-world hands on experience which allows me to relate to my client. I believe my practical experience in science, engineering, finance, real estate, construction, and law gives me a distinct edge on my competition.

    • In your opinion, what is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

      Without-a-doubt the immense satisfaction I receive from hearing my client say, “Job well done... Thank you.”

    • What advice do you most often give your clients & why?

      Tell me everything and hold back nothing. I can deal with anything as long as I know. What is fatal is being blindsided by something hidden from me by my own client. Thankfully, this rarely occurs because of the tight relationship we have with our clients.

  • Theodore M. Hankin

    • What made you choose a career in law?

      My family is all accountants. I was working in my father’s accounting office since I was young. When I could drive, I traveled to his clients to do write-up work. While studying accounting at UCLA, I took a required business law class. The professor, Fred Slaughter, was fabulous and after taking that class, I decided to go to law school.

    • In your opinion, what sets your firm apart from other firms in the area?

      The ability and experience of the attorneys in the firm.

    • What is a case you're particularly proud of?

      One of my first jury trials was a civil plaintiffs’ matter. My clients were a successful husband and wife who had loaned money to a person who I shall refer to as a bad actor. In picking the jury, my clients wanted me to exercise a challenge to a prospective juror who I personally thought was the most qualified prospective juror to understand the issues in the case. I refused to exercise the challenge and the prospective juror was seated. At the end of the trial, which resulted in a verdict in favor of my clients against the bad actor, I learned that the individual that I insisted be seated on the jury was elected the jury foreman, and ultimately voted in favor of my clients.

    • What steps do you take to prepare for a difficult case?

      I make sure that I understand all of the facts and the law applicable to the case. I work with my paralegal on trial preparation, putting together witness lists and exhibit books. Where a witness has given a deposition, I base my outline for examination of the witness on the deposition. I practice opening and closing argument so that when I expound to the jury, it is not the first time that I have made the speech.

    • How do you view your role in the attorney-client relationship?

      I like to think of the client as my partner in the litigation. I copy the client on virtually all communications that I have with opposing counsel, both electronic or written. With the client’s assistance, I can best represent them in the matter at hand.

    • What sets you apart from other attorneys? Why is this important?

      I am licensed as an attorney and formerly a CPA by the State of California. This gives me superior knowledge when it comes to business transactions and tax issues. I also have 40 years of experience in the legal field. When I started practicing law, the two partner law firms that I worked for engaged in a variety of matters. One partner did probate, wills and trusts, and transactions (we represented several independent banks and two airlines); the other partner did the litigation. I was cross-trained in both disciplines, such that I am comfortable in the courtroom as well as outside it.

      That’s important because attorneys should understand the potential consequences that may arise from their representation.

    • How does having experience benefit your clients?

      I have been exposed to all manner of issues on behalf of clients. Such experience only benefits them and me when a similar issue comes up again.

    • In your opinion, what is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

      The satisfaction gained when a case goes the way it should (i.e. in favor of the client).

    • What advice do you most often give your clients & why?

      Two things:

      1. Litigation has more than a dollar cost associated with it; there is typically an emotional cost as well.
      2. Anyone can sue anyone else for anything at any time; they may not prevail, but that doesn’t stop you from being in court. The advice is given to promote the client’s understanding of what they are in for in a litigated matter.
  • David A. Grabhorn, Esq.

    • What made you choose a career in law?

      Since childhood, I always knew I wanted to be a lawyer, but I cannot point to any one thing as the “why” of it. In retrospect, maybe it was because I was the oldest of eight children living in a rural area without any close neighbors. Being charged with guarding the little ones, mediating disputes between them, and applying the rules of the house, probably led to my schoolhouse interest in advocacy and wordsmithing. The high school debate team, speech club, student congress, and similar advocacy competitions were fun and appealed to me from my freshman year. So, when I answered “pre-law” to all career questions from school counselors, none were surprised, nor did they waste time suggesting other careers.

      I get immense satisfaction, which I cannot explain, from assisting others in fixing their problems. Sometimes, that includes positioning the client to avoid issues before they become problems. In any case, I thoroughly enjoy finding mutually acceptable resolutions to disputes, crafting unbreakable contract language, vindicating the violated rights of the offended, or successfully defending the unfairly accused.

      Of course, one can be an advocate in many different forums without being a lawyer, just as one can perform first-aid without being a doctor. The difference between being an advocate and a lawyer is the difference between being an amateur and a professional.

      The short answer is: because I like the law and the legal profession. I like and respect the process; I enjoy research, writing, parsing meaning, and applying the rules; and, I love the feeling I get from a successful outcome.

    • In your opinion, what sets your firm apart from other firms in the area?

      Synergy. Legal problems seldom confine themselves to a single area of law. Individuals frequently seek out the services of a lawyer concerned about one problem, unaware of other issues, then quickly find themselves in the midst of complex litigation. Real estate transactions can morph into business torts or even personal injury lawsuits. Likewise, business transactions frequently implicate real estate law, employment law, or business torts as well. The mere ownership of a small business usually includes questions of succession, which may give rise to issues involving contracts, wills, and trusts. Settlement of any legal dispute will have collection and tax implications, even if the specter of bankruptcy did not already arise as a cause or consequence of the underlying legal action. Finally, all judgments are subject to appeal.

      As a result, the sole practitioner risks either overlooking or being forced to outsource some aspect of the case. Small boutique firms that limit themselves to a single practice area often do no better for their client than the sole practitioner on such collateral legal issues. Huge mega-firms with entire departments devoted to various areas of law practice divide the legal work accordingly. However, that division comes at the price of little day-to-day input between the departments or of greatly increased legal fees. Our firm consists of partners with complimentary rather than duplicated legal experience. Our partners have years of practical experience in business transactions and litigation, labor and employment transactions and litigation, taxes and bankruptcy, trusts and probate litigation, appeals and judgment collection. We work in close enough proximity that each of us routinely, almost unconsciously and without double billing, shares the facts and progress of every case from the perspective of our own practice area. The result is an holistic client representation that is automatic and inherent in the way we interact within our office. Our synergy is what sets us apart.

    • What is a case that you're particularly proud of?
      I am most proud of cases that settled, but they had nondisclosure agreements. There are, however, two matters that come to mind that I remember with a great deal of satisfaction and pride. They were very similar but occurred years apart and involved unrelated companies. One was in the steel industry and one in the newspaper industry. Both were Fortune 500 employers struggling to control the costs of providing health insurance for their employees and faced with expensive litigation and labor strife if they failed to do so. I was able to craft an innovative settlement that reduced and capped the cost to the employer for 3 years into the future at the same time it actually improved the health care coverage for those employees. The final agreement lowered the employer’s existing cost of insurance by purchasing a cheaper plan with higher deductibles and office charges. Then, the settlement took part of the savings to fund an individual employee health reimbursement account, maintained and managed by the employer, that virtually paid 100% of the deductibles and office charges incurred by the employees. The employees had an incentive to refrain from abusing the benefits because whatever the individual did not spend was rolled over into his or her account that the individual could utilize upon retirement as a post-retirement benefit. The employer’s costs were reduced, known, and contractually guaranteed for three years. The reductions in cost even inspired the employer to improve wages.
    • What steps do you take to prepare for a difficult case?

      Assuming “difficult” is defined to mean a close question on the facts or law, assuming “case” means litigation rather than a transaction, the methodology for a difficult case is essentially the same as for an easy case. But there is a difference in the manner of executing these steps when the client is an unsophisticated individual, rather than an institution with a knowledgeable professional as the contact person. In both cases, though, involving the client in the preparation is paramount.

      Indeed, keeping the client involved throughout the case is the best way to avoid an unsatisfied client. I learned a long time ago that a brilliantly managed case resulting in a superb outcome for the client is of much less value if the client is unsatisfied because he or she does not understand and appreciate what was accomplished. Lawyers who make spectators rather than participants out of their clients run the risk of winning the case and losing the client.

      First, I interview the client to understand his or her exact concern and the specific action by us that is expected. During that interview, I also look for other potential claims related to the specific problem that triggered the client’s request for our services. I try to give the client some homework in the nature of evidence production, identification of witnesses, listing of opposing claims, or answers to any specific questions the client was unable to answer during the interview. The purpose of the homework is to obtain evidence as quickly and efficiently as practicable, while at the same time educating the client on his own case, as well as keeping him or her involved in the case.

      Second, I review any documents produced by the client and discuss the issues with the partners for their input from their various areas of practice. I survey the relevant statutes, regulations and case law. I outline an analysis of the case, listing the issues, evidence, problems, and potential courses of action. If litigation is an option, I list the potential causes of action and the proof needed.

      Third, I meet with the client in person for an in-depth discussion of our assessment of the case. I explain the process of filing suit (or defending) in the specific context of the client’s problem. I discuss the potential costs, advantages, and disadvantages of each course of action. If litigation is an option, I explain the steps, including demand letters, discovery, settlement possibilities, and all potential outcomes—best case and worst case.

      Fourth, I prepare the pleadings and review them with the client. I make a determination in consultation with the client and the partners whether and how to communicate a demand or settlement offer before filing suit.

      The difference between a hard case and an easy one is a matter of the amount of work that is necessary to prepare. An easy case has three eyewitnesses supporting our facts—all clergymen, each of a different faith—all volunteering to testify. A hard case is a lack of credible witnesses or documents supporting our facts and credible opposing evidence. Therefore, the hard case requires more investigation, more discovery, more effort. I prepare for a hard case by working harder.

    • How do you view your role in the attorney-client relationship?
      My role is to guide the client through the labyrinth known as the legal process as he tries to achieve his goal. My job is to identify options and to evaluate the different courses of action that will accomplish the client’s objective. My duty is to analyze, assess, and explain to the client the respective advantages and disadvantages of each different course of action as well as the likely legal ramifications of each. I identify pitfalls and advise the client regarding them. In most cases, following a thorough explanation, I owe the client a recommended course of action, based upon a reasoned cost/benefit/risk analysis. But, above all, it is my job is to accept the client’s choice of action, and then to assist in the execution of it. Finally, if at any time I am unable to ethically or legally follow my client’s instructions, it is my duty to withdraw as counsel.
    • What sets you apart from other attorneys? Why is this important?

      My dedication to the client’s case and the extra effort it entails. When I am handling a case, it is always in the back of my mind even when I am working on other cases, or out of the office altogether. Until it is over, it is my case and I think about in my sleep. Moreover, the size of the case is irrelevant. I once tried and won a case in arbitration over $23.48 because the client wanted to vindicate its contractual right as matter of principle. My fees for that vindication cost the client over $5,000 for that contract dispute because I spent nearly as much time, preparation, and effort on it (including a post-hearing brief) as I spent winning a double discharge arbitration award for the same client on a subsequent occasion. I enjoy the process and the work itself, so I do not try to avoid either, even when the client’s matter will not make judicial history. I think my extra effort and dedication to the client’s cause is important because I think it is usually important to the client.

    • How does having experience benefit your clients?

      Experience benefits the client by reducing the cost of legal research and by avoiding the costs incurred exploring options that turn out to be dead ends. An experienced lawyer, having already been down that road, knows when a particular motion is likely to be a waste of time without filing it to find out. An experienced lawyer is simply more likely to find the right solution to the client’s legal problem and to find it faster. An inexperienced lawyer is forced to do more research and spend more time trying to find the optimum trial strategy for the client, assuming he can find it at all. That is why inexperienced lawyers usually have lower billing rates, but still wind up charging the client more at the end of the case. And, of course, if the inexperience causes the case to be lost, the client ultimately pays much more.

    • In your opinion, what is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

      Achieving a resolution of the problem or the case that is such a good outcome the client smiles when he or she happily pays my bill.

    • What advice do you most often give your clients & why?

      In the context of transactional work, I most often advise the employer to take the recommended corrective action before the offending policy or practice becomes a costly legal problem. That course is immeasurably better for the client. Not only does fixing it now save the expense of legal defense and fines later, but it will probably enhance moral and make the management team more effective.

      In the litigation context, the inevitable advice is: “Listen to the question and answer only what is asked.” Too often clients called upon to answer discovery, at depositions or at trial—answer in a way that damages their own case, because they are trying to advocate instead of answering. They know their own case, and they think they know the point opposing counsel is getting at, so they anticipate, they do not listen, and they try to out-maneuver opposing counsel. Frequently, such a client will answer without hearing or understanding the question. When that happens, even truthful answers are viewed with suspicion, because they are non-responsive and the witness appears to be dodging question as a result. Moreover, answers that go beyond the question asked unnecessarily increase the likelihood of the client damaging his or her own case.

  • Evan L. Smith

    • What made you choose a career in law?

      I was originally planning on a career in law enforcement because I saw it as a way to help people and during my military service I was a Military Policeman. While I was good at the job, my experiences helped me decide that I did not want to pursue that as a career. Several of my relatives were lawyers and they all seemed to enjoy practicing law. I discussed it with a few of them and, with their encouragement, decided to become a lawyer. I have not been disappointed by my choice. The practice of law has allowed me to meet and work with many wonderful people and protect the interests of my clients, often when they have faced financial ruin. It is a privilege to be able to do so.

    • In your opinion, what sets your firm apart from other firms in the area?

      We offer good teamwork among experienced attorneys with varied focuses. Cases do not just touch on one area of the law. When we take a matter on, we have the depth of experiences on our team to handle what comes our way. We regularly consult with one another on aspects of each case. The other firms in our locale tend to be focused on narrow areas of the law, such as family law, and have lawyers who tend to be younger and have narrower areas of focus within their firms. We also are experienced with more complex matters of law.

    • What is a case that you're particularly proud of?

      The U.S. Tax Court case of Cato v. Commissioner (1992) 99 T.C. 633 (1992). It is my first reported decision. I was referred this case by an attorney I knew who was the parent of a developmentally disabled child. The Catos owned and operated a “Small Family Home,” which is a class of foster care facilities where they provided long-term care to developmentally disabled children. Initially, they also lived in the home with their own young, growing family. However, to meet state licensing requirements they had to upgrade the small family home, and also purchase a separate home as their family residence. Mr. Cato continued to live on site and operate the facility. A new federal tax law was passed that excluded “foster care income” from the taxable income of a foster care provider, and the Catos properly excluded the foster care payments they received from the state and federal sources from their reported income on their state and federal income tax returns. The IRS disallowed the exclusion of their foster care income, in part because they had another house. The assessments were over $ 100,000.00 in tax, penalties, and interest. Also, the IRS wouldn’t settle because its attorneys viewed them as a test case of firstimpression under the newly enacted law. Had they lost the case it would have financially ruined them, put them out of business, and forced the parents of their residents to find new homes for their children.

      The case was not an easy one, but by drawing on my experience in tax law I was able to put forth a winning argument by applying complex tax concepts, rules, and regulations. The Catos are still in business, and from time to time Mr. Cato refers me new matters.

    • What steps do you take to prepare for a difficult case?

      I take the same steps for all cases; understand my clients’ concerns, gather evidence from them, identify parties and witnesses, research the law both for what I don’t know and to update what I do know, and strategize with the other attorneys in our firm. Then prepare as if every matter is going to trial. That way I am ready if it does and I'm better able to resolve it by agreement if possible.

    • How do you view your role in the attorney-client relationship?

      As a trusted advocate and counselor.

    • What sets you apart from other attorneys? Why is this important?

      I take the time to understand my clients’ concerns. When I speak with a prospective client the first thing I ask them is “How can I help you today?” Somewhere in the conversation, I will ask “what is your objective in this matter?” I find that even if they have a problem for which they have no good solution if I have taken the time to listen to them and fully explain the situation they really appreciate my having answered their questions. Over the years I have had good cases referred to me by people who I could do nothing for, but who I had taken the time to sit with and hear them out.

    • How does having experience benefit your clients?

      The main benefit is that I have a sense of what will occur in a case, procedurally, substantively, and practically. I use my experience to help my clients understand what to expect and also to better represent them.

    • In your opinion, what is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

      Being able to take on problems that are burdening my clients and causing them stress. I find that by taking the time to explain a situation to them and developing a course of action to be followed, my clients’ stress levels are greatly reduced and they can live with the process of pursuing the case to a conclusion.

    • What advice do you most often give your clients & why?

      Although the following focuses on bankruptcy, the advice has broad application:

      “When faced with problems that threaten your well-being and the financial security of your family and business, how you deal with the accompanying stress will directly affect your ability to overcome the problems, your health, and the state of domestic tranquility your family enjoys at home. The key is to understand the difference between worry and concern. Worry is to be avoided, and concern employed to your benefit.

      A worried person is typically stressed out, anxious, and not effectively acting to resolve the problems they are worrying about. Dictionary definitions speak of worry as causing torment, mental distress, agitation, and anxiety which are passively suffered. Concern, on the other hand, is defined as being actively engaged in addressing the matters at hand. It empowers you to address the problems facing you, identify possible solutions which may include bankruptcy or one of its alternative remedies, and then act to implement them.

      In my experience, a client who moves from worry to concern reaps immediate rewards in terms of personal well-being and outlook. The problems are still there and may be severe. The solutions may prove imperfect and difficult to implement, but by taking control and acting positively you not only maximize your chances of success, but also regain your sense of dignity and will once again sleep well at night. So, don’t worry - be concerned.”

  • Living Trusts

    • Why are Living Trusts Popular?

      Living trusts are a popular estate planning device in California for a number of reasons.

      First, if the trust is funded prior to death (e.g. Bank accounts are in the name of the trust, real estate is owned by the trust), there will be no necessity for probate, thus saving fees and costs, as described above.

      Second, there are ways to minimize federal estate taxes on the second death, if the decedent is married when death occurs. Finally, in the case of a blended family, there are ways to insure that the second spouse benefits from the estate of the decedent, while still requiring that after the second spouse’s death, the first decedent’s property benefits children of a prior marriage.

    • What are the Costs of a Living Trust?

      Living Trusts are orders of magnitude cheaper than the probate fees used in the example above.

  • Estates

    • What is Included in a Complete Estate Plan?

      Typical documents are the pour-over will (a default will that requires assets that were not in the trust at death to be put into the trust after probate), the trust, a financial power of attorney (to take effect after the incapacity of the principal) and a medical power of attorney (also referred to as an Advance Health Care Directive, in California; expresses the desires of the principal with respect to medical care if the principal is unable to give direction on their own).

    • Are All of the Above Documents Required?

      No. Typically, a trust and pour-over will are the minimum required for an estate plan.

    • What is the Difference Between an Intestate and a Testate One?

      When someone has died, they either died with a probatable estate (i.e. more than $150,000 in personal property) or they did not.

      • If they died with more than $150,0000 in assets
      • If they died with a will, they are said to have died “testate”
      • If they died without a will, they are said to have died “intestate”

      Either way, a probate is required; the difference between the two alternatives is that someone who has died testate (with a will) has an executor, while someone who dies intestate (without a will) has an administrator.

      Both the executor and the administrator are referred to as the “personal representative” of the estate of the decedent.

    • Is There a Difference Between the Probate Process for a Testate Estate and an Intestate Estate?

      Virtually none.

  • Probate

    • What Is Probate?

      It is a court proceeding in which your estate is supervised by the Court, to insure that your creditors are paid, your taxes are paid and only then, the residue of the estates is distributed to your heirs (either intestate, if you died without a will, or restate, if you died with a will).

    • Is Probate Bad?

      No. It is generally time consuming (a minimum of 5 months, generally more) and it is public (court records are generally public). It’s biggest drawback is that it is expensive.

      The statute provides that the attorney (and the administrator/executor) each receive 4% of the first $100,000 in value of the estate, 3% of the next $100,000, and 2% of the value between $200,000 and $1,000,000, with 1% thereafter.

      As an example, a $500,000 estate (in value) would result in $13,000 in fees to the attorney and another $13,000 in fees to the administrator/executor, for a total of $26,000.

      In California, attorney fees for pronating an estate are set by statute.

    • What Is the Process for Probate of an Estate?

      Probate is initiated by filing a petition for probate in the Superior Court of the County in which the decedent resided at the time of death.

      Once the petition is filed with the court, a hearing date will be assigned; then it is the responsibility of the person filing the petition to publish Notice of Hearing in an appropriate newspaper, as well as sending Notice of Hearing to all heirs / those named in the will.

      In the petition for probate, someone will be nominated as administrator or executor (depending on whether there is a will; if there is then typically the executor will be nominated by the decedent).

      Assuming that the court finds that all notices have been given as required by law and that the petition is otherwise adequate, the court will order the appointment of the administrator or executor.

      The administrator or executor must then marshal the assets of the estate and prepare an inventory and appraisal (a probate referee will be required to assist in the preparation of the inventory and appraisal if there are non-cash assets in the estate). Once the inventory and appraisal is complete, it is filed with the court.

      While the inventory and appraisal is being prepared, Notice of the probate must be sent to known creditors of the decedent, to allow them the opportunity to file Creditor’s Claims with the court. Each Creditor’s Claim is either accepted or rejected by the administrator or executor. If rejected, litigation may ensue between the creditor and the estate. If accepted, then the creditor will be paid before the estate is distributed to the heirs or beneficiaries.

      Generally, there is a four month period during which Creditor’s Claims may be filed in the estate. After that four month period, a creditor who received notice is barred from filing a claim (there are exceptions).

      Assuming that the estate is solvent and that there will be assets left over after payment of the creditors, all taxes have been paid or provided for, then the estate is in a condition to be closed….

      When the estate is in a condition to be closed, a report and accounting is filed with the court, that details the activities of the administrator or executor. This includes detailed schedules showing receipts and disbursement of estate funds.

      The attorney for the estate, and the administrator or executor, will ask for their fees and reimbursement for any costs that they advanced on behalf of the estate, with the report and accounting.

      The report and accounting will be set for hearing by the court. Notice and typically a copy of the report and accounting will be sent to all heirs or beneficiaries before the hearing date.

      Assuming that there are no deficiencies with notice and that the report and accounting are technically correct, the court will approve the report and accounting, awarding attorney fees and administrator or executor fees at the same time.

      After approval, an order is submitted to be signed by the court. The administrator or executor then makes the distributions, obtaining receipts from each heir or beneficiary who receives assets from the estate. These receipts are then filed with the court and the administrator or executor is discharged from their duties by the court.