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How Do You Avoid Probate in California?

03/18/2024 | Blog
Probate law concept red wooden house with judges gavel on table

Probate can be a lengthy process. And when your loved ones are grieving your loss, it’s best if they can settle your estate sooner rather than later. Is it ever possible to avoid probate?

The short answer is yes; however, it depends on your specific assets. We recommend calling our estate planning attorneys for advice tailored to you. In the meantime, let’s consider the main options for avoiding probate in California.

What Is Probate?

Probate is the legal procedure courts use to distribute a person’s assets when they pass away. The process begins when one person – normally the executor – files for probate.

  • A probate case can take eight months, if not longer, to conclude.
  • Beneficiaries can’t receive assets until probate proceedings are complete.
  • Probate leads to families dealing with a great deal of stress and uncertainty, at an already difficult time.

Probate is a process most people want to avoid. But can you avoid probate? Let’s consider some strategies you might use.

Can I Avoid Probate with a Will?

No, but this is a common misconception. The only way to avoid probate is to reduce the number of assets eligible for probate. A will does not necessarily achieve this. So, here are four steps you might take to reduce the number of probate assets.

1. Consider Joint Ownership

If you own a home, consider naming someone else on your title as joint owner with a survivorship clause. This lets the person e.g. your spouse take ownership of the property the moment you pass away. The property will bypass probate.

There are, however, tax and related implications to consider when opting for joint ownership. Our attorneys will explain the pros and cons of these arrangements so you can decide if it’s right for you.

2. Create a Living Trust

A living trust is a legal arrangement which allows you to “shield” assets from probate. You create a trust, name beneficiaries, and decide which assets to include.

  • You’ll remain the owner, with full control of the assets.
  • You can change the trust at any time during life.
  • By declaring yourself the owner of these assets, you’ll stop them going through probate when you die.

The trust becomes unchangeable, or irrevocable, at death. Until then, though, it’s entirely flexible.

3. Assign Beneficiaries

It’s possible to name a beneficiary to inherit certain assets the moment you pass away. As ownership transfers immediately, these assets avoid probate. The most common processes are:

  • Payable-on-death bank account designations
  • Transfer-on-death deeds

Let’s consider both options.

Payable-on-Death Bank Account Designations (PODs)

A POD lets a named beneficiary inherit your bank accounts, such as savings accounts, when you die. Assets transferred this way avoid probate.

  • As soon as the beneficiary receives the death certificate, the beneficiary can immediately approach the bank or financial firm to claim the money.
  • You have full control over the accounts until the date of death. The beneficiary has no legal rights until you pass away.

You can use similar designations for stocks, shares, and retirement accounts.

4. Use Small Estate Probate Procedures

In California, you can use a simplified probate process for estates smaller than $184,500. This is a much quicker and less formal procedure than the usual probate process. It does not involve any court appearances.

Our attorneys can explain if your estate might qualify for a simplified probate procedure.

Learn More About Avoiding Probate in California

The probate process is not just time-consuming. It’s complicated. To protect your assets, reassure your family, and give yourself peace of mind, call our firm.

At the Law Offices of Alice A. Salvo, we will explain the legal process and the options you have. You can then make an informed decision which is right for you – and the future of your family.

Contact our probate attorneys now to discuss your estate plan.