Planning for the end of your life is not a task that should be delayed, especially if you have assets that you would like distributed to your family. Unfortunately, your family and loved ones will need to go through the grief and adjustment period of losing you while also handling the associated legal complexities. California law requires that a probate court process occur following a person’s death to validate their will. This process executes a number of tasks designed to guarantee the decedent’s assets are distributed to the appropriate beneficiaries. Luckily, there are actions that you can take to help your family avoid as much of the probate process as possible while also protecting your assets.
Though probate does have its usefulness in some circumstances, it is often an unnecessary extra step for your beneficiaries to receive the assets you would like to leave to them. There are several reasons to avoid probate when possible. The probate process could take months or even years to complete, and none of the assets are distributed until it is finalized. The total value of your assets will also be reduced, as there are associated costs with the probate process: appraisal fees, court costs, attorney fees, and valuation fees. Probate court is also on public record—this, along with the delay caused by the courts, can expose your assets to unhappy relatives or creditors that could contest the will.
There are numerous compelling reasons to avoid probate. Fortunately, there are several avenues available to you to keep your assets out of probate. Most strategies focus on minimizing the value of your estate in your name because some states allow a simplified probate process if your estate value is below specific levels. The best route for you depends entirely on the type of assets you own.
A: If a person’s assets total less than $184,500, they can avoid the probate requirement. This is important as the probate process can take months or even years to complete while also reducing the total value of your assets through court fees. The methods above are intended to reduce the overall value of your assets that are subject to probate court.
A: There are some types of property and assets that do not need to go through probate. Property held jointly with a right of survivorship clause is exempt and automatically transfers to the other owner(s). Retirement accounts and life insurance policies avoid probate court by having a designated beneficiary. Assets placed in a living trust are also exempt from probate and will transfer as directed by the account owner.
A: It is entirely possible to go through probate court without the support of a lawyer. Unfortunately, probate laws are complex and can be prone to changes, making the process difficult. A knowledgeable probate lawyer can simplify the process by providing their expertise.
A: Though most wills are required to go through probate court in California, there are some exceptions. You can keep your estate from going through probate if the value of your assets is less than $184,500. Certain types of accounts and all assets placed in a living trust can also avoid the probate process in California.
Avoiding probate is a complicated process, especially when you must decide on the best methods for each asset type. Consider retaining an experienced estate lawyer who can help guide you through these situations and find the best ways to handle your estate. At Sweeney Probate Law, we have spent over 50 years representing Californians in estate and probate law, and we are ready to help you with planning your estate.