As you plan for your financial future, it is important to consider how the probate process will impact any inheritance you plan to receive—or, conversely, how probate will affect the assets you leave behind for your loved ones. In California, the probate process can be lengthy, expensive, and stressful for heirs, potentially reducing the value of the estate and causing unnecessary disputes among family members as tedious proceedings drag on for months or years.
Here are some of the key ways that the probate process can impact the process of getting your inheritance in California:
Going through the legally mandated probate process can have a serious impact on the process of transferring an inheritance, as well as a serious, material impact on how much of that inheritance is left by the time an heir gets it.
There are things you can do in your lifetime to minimize the significant impacts that probate can have on inheritance in the State of California.
One highly effective strategy is to create a living trust. A living trust allows you to transfer many different sorts of assets to a special legal entity called a “trust” during your lifetime. Trusts include special provisions and instructions for exactly how the funds and property held in trust will be distributed upon your death (or upon other criteria being met). This powerful legal instrument bypasses the probate process and ensures that your heirs can access their inheritance quickly and easily after your death. Additionally, a living trust can help you maintain privacy, reduce legal fees and court costs, and minimize the risk of disputes among family members.
Another thing to keep in mind is that jointly held marital property and other types of assets with previously established beneficiaries will also be kept out of the probate process. This includes things like the home you co-own with your spouse or the life insurance policy that already has your child legally established as the beneficiary. Joint ownership (or simply gifting assets to your beneficiaries during your lifetime) can be a powerful estate planning tool that helps keep key assets out of probate.
A: Assets that can avoid probate in California include community marital property, jointly owned property with the right of survivorship defined, assets held in a living trust, and those which already have a named beneficiary, such as retirement accounts and life insurance policies.
A: Assets that go through probate in California will include anything owned solely in the name of the deceased. This includes everything from real estate to bank accounts to personal property like vehicles or valuable collections.
A: Yes, having a will does not exempt an estate from going through probate in California, although it typically will help the process move along much more smoothly and quickly. A will, however, only outlines the deceased’s wishes and does not replace the probate court process. Even with a will to guide the process, the probate court still needs to validate that will, catalog all property, oversee the work of the executor named in the will, settle debts, and distribute assets.
A: In California, there is no set cash amount that determines whether an estate must go through probate. Rather, this depends on the type of assets owned by the deceased, the total combined value of all those assets, both cash and non-cash, as well as how the various assets are titled. A special legal instrument called the “small estate affidavit procedure” can sometimes be used in place of the probate process if the assets held solely in the decedent’s name have a relatively low total value and do not include real estate.
Whether you’re sitting down to plan your estate or trying to figure out how to access your rightful inheritance, don’t hesitate to contact the experienced professionals at Sweeney Probate Law if you’re concerned about how probate may impact your situation. Our highly skilled team can guide you through the probate process and help you protect your assets, your legacy, and your loved ones. Don’t wait until it is too late. Contact us today to schedule a consultation and take the first step in creating a comprehensive estate plan that meets your unique needs and goals.