Estate Planning: How to Avoid Probate in California
Probate is the formal legal process in which a will is proved in court and accepted as a valid public document that is the true last statement of the deceased. It is a costly and often time-consuming process that can be frustrating for those who have to deal with it after you have passed. Fortunately there are ways to avoid probate if you plan ahead.
In California, you can create a living trust to avoid probate for anything you own (from bank accounts, to cars, to houses). A trust document (much like a will) needs to be created that will name someone your trustee after you death. The most important next step is to transfer ownership of your property to yourself as the trustee of the trust. After that is completed, the property will be controlled by the terms of the trust. At your death, your successor trustee will be able to distribute your assets to the trust beneficiaries without probate court proceedings.
If an asset is owned by two or more people as joint tenants, it will usually not be probated. When a joint tenant dies, the surviving tenant gains 100% ownership of the asset regardless of what the final will of the deceased says because joint tenancy takes higher precedence. It is best to discuss this option further with an estate planning attorney to avoid complications down the line.
In California, you can add a payable-on-death (POD) designation to bank accounts (including savings and CDs) or a transfer-on-death (TOD) registration of stocks, bonds, and vehicles. You are able to manage all your accounts as you wish. Upon your death, your beneficiaries can claim the money directly from the bank or inherit the brokerage account (or vehicle) without probate court involvement.
The California Probate Code provides that estates of less than $150,000 do not need to be probated. In some instances, properties considerably larger than $150,000 can still qualify under this small estate law since the $150,000 is calculated by totally all the probate assets owned by the decedent. Whatever the situation, your estate planning attorney will guide you in the direction that will be the least costly and complicated for your family upon your passing.