Probate: Yes, there are alternatives to that public process

Assuredly, estate plans executed and administered in Orange County and elsewhere across California and the rest of the country are about money.

Often, though, that is not exclusively the case. As one estate planning commentator notes in a recent article on probate avoidance through careful estate planning, “it’s not always about the dollars you are leaving behind, but about the love and thought that goes into the preparation and protection of your legacy.”

One central question centrally looms from that immediately preceding paragraph, namely this: What exactly is probate, and why might an individual or family seek to avoid it?

There is nothing particularly complex about probate or its administration. Probate is simply the legal process pursuant to which a court administers an estate. Probate is carried out when no will exists naming an estate administrator, and/or when various other estate planning vehicles — one or more trusts, for example — were not executed with named beneficiaries.

For many people, probate comes with myriad downsides.

Here’s one: It’s a quite public process. As noted in the above-cited article, “There is no privacy in a probate.”

And here’s another: If you’re a likely beneficiary of some estate assets, you could be waiting for a considerable time to receive them. Probate plays out methodically.

And then there’s this: Ultimately, a court — that is, a judge with no personal knowledge of a deceased person and his or her family members — could be making beneficiary designations based on statutory enactments regarding distributions.

Wills, trusts and additional estate planning tools can be established to distribute wealth in precise ways and with an eye on avoiding probate. The aforementioned article points out that “it’s important to seek legal counsel to help coordinate [an] overall estate plan.”

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