The California probate process is designed to provide a legal and efficient method for determining how a deceased resident’s affairs are properly managed, in addition to ensuring his or her assets are distributed responsibly. At times, however, this legal undertaking can be long and tedious. The Stevenson Law Office, a Los Angeles firm specializing in wills, trusts and estates, invites you to read the following short blog describing what probate is, how the probate process operates, as well as the steps someone can employ to ensure his or her loved ones can avoid probate in California.
What Is Probate?
Probate is a legal process in which a court of law might review and determine the authenticity of a deceased person’s will, or in the case of an individual who died without leaving a will, who will oversee said individual’s final affairs and who is legally eligible to receive his or her assets.
How Does The Probate Process Work?
Typically, probate will be necessary for estates left by an individual who died without leaving a will. Even in certain cases in which a will was drafted, probate might still be required. If probate is indicated, the first step in the process is the appointment of someone to handle the deceased’s final affairs. Individuals with wills typically designate an Executor for this responsibility. For those who died “intestate,” or without a will, a court will nominate someone to be the Estate Administrator. In either instance, said individual is usually a close relative of the deceased, such as a spouse or child. The Executor or Administrator is responsible for:
*Gathering the deceased’s assets.
*Settling whatever debts the late individual might have accrued.
*Distributing any remaining assets to the appropriate individuals. If the decedent had a will, assets should be awarded in accordance with his or her directives. Under California law, the remaining assets of someone who died intestate would be distributed to his or her spouse, children, parents or siblings. In cases where the decedent left behind a spouse, he or she would inherit all of the former couple’s community property (assets they accumulated during their married life) and a certain percentage of any separate property each spouse might have had. Children, parents or siblings would be entitled to a specific percentage of the couple’s separate assets (depending upon which classification of people exist at the time of the decedent’s passing).
Can An Estate Avoid Probate In California?
There are certain circumstances, as well as actions people can be employ to potentially prevent their loved ones from having to participate in the probate process altogether.
- Estates Valued At Less $150,000
- Should a decedent’s estimated total monetary assets (like bank accounts) be valued at under $150,000 (excluding ownings such as real estate, homes and vehicles), his or her estate might not be subject to probate.
Steps That Can Be Taken To Avoid California Probate:
Create A Living Trust
To accomplish this task, the individual in question (legally referred to as the Trustor) drafts a document, typically with the aid of an experienced Wills, Trust and Estates attorney that designates a Trustee (an individual, entity or financial institution), who will act as administrator of the trust upon his or her death. Once the Trustee(s) are established, the Trustor transfers all of his or her assets into the Trust Fund and signs the agreement for the purpose of ratification. When this process is completed, all included assets are safely in Trust. Therefore, when the Trustor dies, his or her Trustees are free to distribute existing assets to the Trust’s beneficiaries without said assets being required to pass through probate.
Designating Payable-On-Death Assignments To Various Financial Accounts
Under California law, financial institutions are permitted to offer customers who own banking or savings accounts the option to designate Payable-On-Death beneficiaries. As the moniker would indicate, designated beneficiaries would receive the contents of said accounts upon the owner’s passing. Typically, the beneficiary would merely need to provide a death certificate and several forms of personal identification to claim the existing funds.
Transfer On Death Registrations
Such legal instruments often apply to property deeds and investments such as stocks and securities, in addition to vehicle registrations. Much akin to the Payable-On-Death designation, a beneficiary of a Transfer-On-Death registration would only need to provide a death certificate of the property or fund’s original owners and provide appropriate forms of identification to be granted title of ownership.
Typically applying to married individuals, each spouse may own various assets, such as a home, vehicles and financial accounts jointly. In the case of one spouse’s passing, no transfer of ownership would be needed because one of the property’s legal owners would still be alive.
Contemplating death and considering how to distribute one’s assets might be a difficult undertaking for many people. Nonetheless, it might be necessary to ensure your assets pass to your loved ones after you are gone. If you have questions about probate, or desire to set up a will or a living trust, please contact us. We might be able to offer assistance.