Orange County Probate and Estate Planning Blog

How to Open A Probate in Orange County

Posted by Charles Kausen | Apr 17, 2024 | 0 Comments

If a deceased loved one was fortunate enough to spend their life--or at least the end of their life--in beautiful Orange County, California, their assets may need to go through the probate process.  Below are the major steps and relevant tips for how to open a probate in Orange County, California as well as hyperlinks to other helpful articles.

  1. Gather Your Information

After a loved one has passed away, and it is determined that a probate is necessary, the first step is to gather the necessary information and documents, including:

  • Death certificate
  • Will
  • Codicils
  • Health Care Directive (also known as a power of attorney for health care)
  • Information regarding the Decedent's surviving family members

Death Certificate

Although not initially required to open a probate in Orange County (unlike some other California counties), a death certificate will help you navigate the probate process.  The death certificate will have information regarding the Decedent, including social security number, date of death, place of death, and last known residence.  You will also eventually need copies of the Decedent's death certificate for several important steps in administering the Decedent's probate estate.


Contrary to popular belief, a will does not avoid probate.  Instead, the will is offered to the court for probate, and if the court finds that it is valid, then the executor is directed to make distributions following the terms of the will.  For example, if the Decedent's name is William, and William had only a valid will but not trust, Will's will will have to be probated.  There are specific rules for how to make a valid will in California, but if you find anything that could reasonably be interpreted as a written document created by the Decedent that states the Decedent's wishes upon their death, you should safeguard it immediately. 


What is a codicil anyway?  Codicil is simply legalese for an amendment to a will.  Because a codicil changes the original will--but does not replace it in its entirety--both the will and all valid codicils will need to be presented to the Court for probate.

Information Regarding Surviving Family Members

When bringing a probate in Orange County, the court will need information about the people the Decedent left behind.  It will be particularly important to get information about the Decedent's spouse (including previously divorced or deceased spouses), children.

  1. Bring the Initial Petition

Once you've gathered all the necessary information and documents, the next step is to file the initial petition (Form DE-11 available here through the California Courts website) with the probate court in Orange County. This petition, typically filed by the nominated executor or administrator, officially begins the probate process. It outlines important details such as the deceased person's name, date of death, and any known heirs or beneficiaries.

Along with the initial Petition for Probate, the Court also requires an executed Form DE-147, which outlines the important duties that the administrator of the estate will need to carry out.  Read these requirements carefully and keep a copy handy as they may keep you out of trouble!

Tip: Beware of the Orange County Superior Court Local Rules!

Each county in California may have its own set of local rules governing probate procedures. It's crucial to familiarize yourself with the local rules of the Orange County Superior Court to ensure compliance and smooth processing of your probate case. Failure to adhere to these rules could result in unnecessary delays or rejection of your filings.

  1. Lodge the Will  and Codicils with the Court

If the deceased loved one died with a will, you'll need to physically deliver the original will (the one with the "wet-ink" signature) and any codicils to the probate court.  This act is called lodging the will.  Lodgment ensures not only that the court has access to the last will and testament, as well as any amendments made to it through codicils, but it also ensures that the will is protected in case anyone contests its validity or meaning. 

  1. Give Notice and Publish

After filing the initial petition and lodging the will with the Court, the Court will provide you with a hearing date for the initial hearing. This hearing provides an opportunity for interested parties to voice any objections or concerns regarding the probate proceedings. Additionally, you'll need to give notice of the hearing to all including parties, including heirs, beneficiaries, and creditors, as required by California law.

Often, providing notice simply entails mailing a completed Notice of Petition to Administer Estate (Form DE-121) to all persons listed in Section 8 of the Petition for Probate.  Remember to include with each mailing a copy of the petition with all attachments and exhibits.  This notice must be completed at least 15 days prior to the hearing date so get this done early.

IMPORTANT! Orange County currently requires that you provide information of how to access the hearing remotely.  As of writing, that required language is as follows:

IMPORTANT: (1) Appearance at the hearing may be by video remote using the Court's designated video platform; (2) Go to the Court's website at to appear for probate hearings and for remote hearing instructions; (3) If you have difficulty connecting to your remote hearing, call 657-622-8278 for assistance. Alternatively, you may appear at the hearing in person.

You will also need to show the Court that you followed the rules. After mailing the required notices, complete the second page of the DE-121, the proof of service by mail.  You will then file the completed DE-121 with the Court.

Finally, you will also need to publish notice of the hearing and information regarding the decedent's death in an orange county paper.  There may be a Newspaper that you need to use listed on the Orange County Court website, and this notice must be published three times, with five days between the first and last publication, and must be started at least 15 days prior to the hearing.

If you fail to follow ALL notice and publication requirements will cause the Court to continue the petition, so get this done right the first time!

  1. Check For Probate Notes

Before your scheduled hearing date, it's essential to check for any probate notes issued by the Court. Probate notes are comments or requests for additional information from the probate examiner (AKA a probate rules master) assigned to your case. Addressing these notes promptly can help expedite the probate process and ensure that your case proceeds smoothly.

You can read these notes for free by going to the Orange County Court's website.  If you are lucky, the probate examiner may review the case early so be sure to check early and often.  Certainly, you should check your notes basically every day starting three weeks prior to your hearing.

  1. Attend Your Hearing

On the scheduled hearing date, you or your legal representative must appear before the probate court to present your case. Be prepared to address any questions or concerns raised by the court or other interested parties. This is an essential step in the probate process and provides an opportunity for the court to review the details of the case before issuing any orders.

Most courts, including the Orange County Superior Court, allows parties to appear at the appointment hearing remotely.  More information on how to appear remotely for an Orange County Probate hearing can be found here.   However, it can be worth your and your attorney's time to appear in person for this hearing.  You should bring a copy of the proposed order (detailed below) to Court with you to file with the Court right away!

  1. File a Proposed Order and Letters of Administration

Following the hearing, if the court approves the petition, you'll need to file a proposed order and obtain letters of administration or letters testamentary. These documents grant you the legal authority to act on behalf of the estate and carry out your duties as executor or administrator. Ensure that all necessary paperwork is filed correctly and in a timely manner to avoid any further delays.

In Orange County, you will need to file a completed Agreement to Appear and Comply before the court will sign the letters of administration/testamentary.  Once you get your signed letters, then you can start administering the estate.

Remember, you do not have to go it alone!  Attorneys at Finlay Law Group, APC are happy to assist you with administering an estate in Orange County.  Reach out today for a free consultation.

Disclaimer: The above information is intended for information purposes alone and is not intended as legal advice. Please consult with counsel before taking any steps in reliance on any of the information contained herein. 

Disclaimer: The above information is intended for information purposes alone and is not intended as legal advice. Please consult with counsel before taking any steps in reliance on any of the information contained herein.  

About the Author

Charles Kausen

Charles "Charley" Kausen graduated summa cum laude from the University of San Diego School of Law in 2022 after earning a psychology degree from University of California at Santa Barbara in 2012. During law school, Charley was an extern for Judge Janis Sammartino of the United States District Cou...


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