The Law Offices of Stephen E. Penner
Family Law and Estate Planning in Santa Barbara County


Guidance and Efficiency



The Law Offices of Stephen E. Penner, PC, have over forty years of experience in assisting and representing clients in Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo in the probate process.  The loss of a close family member or friend is a difficult time, and the settling of an estate in probate can be overwhelming.  Stephen E. Penner is able to help guide you step-by-step through the probate process.

Probate means “proving the will” through a court proceeding.  Depending upon the will, the number of heirs, and the size of the estate, the steps that need to be taken as a personal representative or executor to settle and distribute the estate can be complex.  Generally, settling an estate in probate proceedings involves:

  1. Determining what property is owned by the decedent
  2. Paying all the decedent’s debts and taxes, if any; and
  3. Distributing all the decedent’s remaining property to the appropriate heirs.

When a person dies, he or she may own several categories of inheritable assets.  Among these may be household belongings, real property, bank and money market accounts, vehicles, mutual funds, stocks, and business interests.  All property owned by the decedent at the time of his or her death is subject to probate proceedings and must be accounted for.

Not all estates need a formal probate court proceeding.  California law provides us with many shortcuts - methods for transferring property after a death without probate court proceedings - and some of these shortcuts can be completed in a few weeks.  Use of these shortcuts is completely contingent upon the details of each unique situation. The Law Offices of Stephen E. Penner has experience in determining whether an estate must enter probate and can advise accordingly.

When there is no other way to transfer title from the deceased person to the new rightful owner, a formal probate proceeding is necessary.  If a formal probate court procedure is required, it can often take seven to nine months to complete all the necessary steps, longer if the estate is large and complicated.  However, the Law Offices of Stephen E. Penner will focus on keeping court involvement at a minimum.

Additionally, we have extensive experience in assisting family members with probate issues such as:

  1. Choosing from among the several types of available legal procedures to move, transfer, and distribute property
  2. Evaluating the terms and requirements of a will, including determining the heirs and beneficiaries
  3. Ensuring all appropriate community property transfers to the surviving spouse
  4. Resolving inheritance disputes
  5. Providing required notice to creditors and beneficiaries
  6. Arranging for the transfer of real property or tangible personal property located outside of California
  7. Assembling a checklist for settling the estate
  8. Accounting for all of the estate's different categories of assets and determining how title is held
  9. Arranging for payment of all the decedent’s debts and obligations unpaid at the date of death
  10. Determining the priority of debts
  11. Determining the method of transferring different estate assets
  12. Preparation of a Petition for Probate and all other required legal pleadings

If you are involved in a probate proceeding, whether as an executor, personal representative, heir, beneficiary, or creditor, the Law Offices of Stephen E. Penner will also be able to assist you and provide you with legal advice in the following difficult situations:

  1. Resolving ambiguities in the will
  2. Litigating contested claims against the estate
  3. Resolving any of the decedent’s unfinished contracts
  4. Administering insolvent estates (estates with more debts than assets)
  5. Finding solutions when a friend or family member believes that he or she has been unfairly left out of a will
  6. Serving as a guide in the process when substantial property is to be given to a minor
  7. Distributing an executor’s fees for administration of the estate
  8. Dividing complicated assets, such as from an ongoing business owned by the decedent
  9. Allocating substantial income owed to the decedent, such as from royalties, copyrights, trusts, etc.
  10. Following all the duties required of an estate representative