Probate is a type of court proceeding that can be confusing, expensive and very time-consuming for beneficiaries. After your passing, if you do not have a solid estate plan in place and your assets exceed $166,250, the probate court may decide who will receive your assets. The decisions made by the probate court may not be in accordance with your wishes.
The Cost Associated with Probate Court
There are also costs associated with probate court. This is especially true if you left behind numerous assets, and if the assets in your estate are worth a lot of money. The more your estate is worth, the more fees your beneficiaries could incur during the probate process. In a place like the Bay Area, it is very possible to leave behind an estate worth hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. Unfortunately, not having an effective estate plan could mean additional hardships for your family after your passing. You may be able to avoid probate in California.
Best Ways to Avoid the Probate Process in California
Create a Living Trust
Wills may be subject to probate in California. However, assets in a living trust do not have to go through probate. You can include many types of assets in a living trust. With a living trust, you can name yourself as a trustee and assign a successor trustee to handle the transferring of assets to beneficiaries after your death.
Considering the alternatives involved with not using a living trust, such as probate court proceedings, a living trust will make the process of transferring property after your death much simpler. In addition, a living trust can be used in conjunction with other types of estate planning tools.
Name Beneficiaries on Certain Assets
Certain assets, such as bank accounts, allow you to name a beneficiary, or a person who takes ownership after your death. Your investments and retirement plans may also allow you to name a beneficiary.
One popular option is to utilize transfer-on-death (TOD) for vehicle registration. By utilizing this option, your vehicle will pass to your beneficiary without the hassle of probate court. California is one of roughly a dozen states that allow you to use this option. There are other types of properties that you can transfer upon your death. You can speak with an estate planning attorney to learn more benefits about this option.
Joint Ownership of Assets
You may avoid the probate process for certain assets if those assets are joint property. For instance, if you and your spouse have joint ownership of a bank account, and you control an equal share with your spouse, then your spouse would retain sole control over the account after your passing. No probate proceedings would be necessary. You may own property with your spouse, such as a shared vehicle. After your death, the vehicle would pass to your spouse.
California is a community property state, which means state law generally recognizes that properties attained during the course of a marriage or registered domestic partnership are owned by both parties. In California, you can avoid the probate process if you hold title to an asset as community property with the right of survivorship. The asset would pass down to you without going through probate.
Filing a Spousal Petition in California
In California, surviving spouses and registered domestic partners may file petitions to claim ownership of assets. Depending on the circumstances, such as the presence of a will, it may not be possible to claim all assets by using a spousal petition.
There are multiple steps involved with filing a spousal petition in California. You should speak with an estate planning lawyer if you want to consider this option.
About Our Bay Area Estate Planning Law Firm
Davidson Estate Law can help you develop effective options for protecting your assets and avoiding probate in California. We can help with setting up trusts, wills, powers of attorney and other tools that can help simplify the transfer of assets after your death. To schedule a consultation with one of our Bay Area estate planning attorneys, call or use our online case review form.