Probate is a process by which a decedent’s assets can be transferred to his or her beneficiaries, and any debts of the estate can be paid. For many individuals, however, the goal of estate planning is to avoid probate.
There are several reasons for this attitude. First, there are court costs associated with a probate filing, and the details of that filing are usually a matter of public record. In addition, abiding by court deadlines may also translate into additional delays before the estate’s assets can be transferred to their rightful recipients.
Fortunately, an attorney can work with an individual to structure assets in ways that will avoid probate. Property titled in the name of an irrevocable trust belongs to the trust, so it is not considered probate property. Similarly, jointly owned property will transfer to a surviving co-owner without requiring probate. Contracts also operate according to their terms, such as beneficiaries named in life insurance or retirement policies.
However, any property that was titled solely in the decedent’s name with no named beneficiaries may have to go through probate. In California, the Superior Court hears estate matters (including other areas under its jurisdiction, which is not limited to estate law). The estate executor or personal representative appointed by the court typically is assigned the task of submitting to the court an inventory of the decedent’s probate assets and their value at the time of his or her passing. Fortunately, if an estate is small enough, probate may even be unnecessary. In California, probate assets under $100,000 may not have to go through probate.
Source: FindLaw, “California Wills Laws,” copyright 2015, Thomson Reuters