Probate is the court-supervised process used to determine whether a will is valid and to distribute the property of the estate according to the terms of the will or state laws of intestate succession for property not otherwise disposed of by will, trust, or other testamentary instruments. While court supervision is sometimes necessary, such as when there is a challenge to a will, a complaint about the executor or administrator of the estate, or other dispute among the intended heirs or beneficiaries, probate is generally a process to be minimized or avoided altogether if possible. This is because probate can take a long time to complete while the process winds its way through the legal system, while the cost of probate is taken out of the estate, reducing the value of the estate that would otherwise be distributed to intended heirs and beneficiaries.
In California, probate can be avoided altogether if the value of the estate is less than $100,000. Even if you have a larger estate, there are many ways to convert your property to non-probated assets, which will reduce the size of your estate for probate purposes. Below are some of the most popular instruments and vehicles used for removing assets from the probate estate:
Revocable Living Trusts - Assets properly placed in a living trust do not need to be probated. Living trusts have many other benefits as well, such as certain tax advantages, avoiding conservatorship of your assets, and generating income during your lifetime.
Jointly-Titled Property - When property is titled in the names of two people jointly, title to the property passes to the surviving spouse or other named party upon the passing of the other party. This could apply to your house, car, or any other investment property. There may be other reasons not to place the property in joint title; discuss this issue with attorney before making any major changes.
Insurance Policies, 401(k) plans - Any type of insurance policy or retirement plan that has a named beneficiary can automatically transfer the benefit to the beneficiary or beneficiaries upon death, without having to go through probate.
These are just some of the ways you can minimize or avoid probate of your estate. When forming or revising your estate plan, raise the issue of probate with your estate planning attorney to discuss the mechanisms which will work best with your overall estate plan. In San Diego and Southern California, contact the Casiano Law Firm to speak with an experienced estate planning and probate attorney.