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Best Ways to Avoid Probate in California

California probate is both expensive and time-consuming. Attorneys charge statutory fees, and a simple probate can take between 8-12 months to complete. With this in mind, here are the best ways to avoid probate in California, making sure your beneficiaries receive your estate.

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Ways to Avoid Probate in California

We all work hard during life and usually hope that we will be able to pass a small (or large) inheritance to our children or family.  Whether a legacy is big or small, the last thing we want to do is waste what we have worked hard to accumulate. We certainly do not want to have our family and loved ones pay a considerable sum of money to lawyers to probate our estate when, with a little planning, you can avoid. With this in mind, most legal professionals will agree that these are the best ways to avoid probate in California.

1. Create a Revocable Living Trust

Certainly one of the best ways to avoid probate in California is  to create a revocable living trust. In the past, setting up a living trust has been expensive because the only option one had was to hire an expensive attorney. Nowadays there are less expensive ways to create a revocable living trust. First, however, you need to understand what a living trust is. A living trust is very much like a Will, but it is different.

A will, as you know, distributes your assets to those people and in the manner which you have pre-designated. A will, however, does not avoid probate. On the contrary, a revocable living trust creates a separate entity (the trust) which provides a placeholder for your assets until death. During your lifetime, assets can be put into trust as well as taken out of the trust. Upon death, all assets which are in the trust can then be distributed by a designated successor trustee to the people you intend.  All property in the name of the trust can bypass probate and can be paid or distributed directly from the trust, by the successor trustee, to the designated beneficiary.  As a result, having a living trust also bypasses the need to file probate or pay probate attorneys fees. Having a living trust avoids these costs and expenses.

2. Designate Beneficiaries on Bank and/or Retirement Accounts

Certain assets allow an owner to name a beneficiary to the asset should the owner die. Another one of the best ways to avoid probate is to incorporate a pay-on-death clause. Assets with pay-on-death clauses makes it easy to transfer the assets to designated family members immediately. Keep in mind, however, that when you identify a beneficiary on a bank account or a retirement account, the asset will bypass any provisions you may make in a Will. Stock accounts, bonds, life insurance policies, vehicles and even real property can be set up with “pay-on-death” provisions. Be aware, however, that pay-on-death provisions are not always the ideal estate planning tool. For example, it would be inappropriate for a pay-on-death clause to list a minor as the beneficiary. For this reason, if you do choose to incorporate pay-on-death provisions for some of your assets, it is essential to give careful consideration before doing so.

3. Hold Title to Property in Joint Tenancy

Another one of the best ways to avoid probate in California and a easy tool to keep assets out of probate is titling assets in joint tenancy with another party. Joint tenancy title is usually an excellent option for spouses, who often want to hold title to real estate with a right of survivorship. If a married couple owns real estate in joint tenancy, the property can easily be transferred to a surviving spouse if one spouse dies. In this regard, holding property in joint tenancy avoids the asset having to go through a probate proceeding. Another critical point to keep in mind is that it does not matter if the people are married or not. Any two or more people can hold title to an asset in joint tenancy. When a joint tenant dies, the decedent’s ownership of the property spills over to the remaining co-owners equally. If you want to hold title to an asset in joint tenancy, it must be designated as such. If there is no designation, the default assumption is tenants-in-common which means each titleholder owns a specified percentage share.

4. Understand Small Estate Laws that Avoid Probate

California has several options to settle small estates that can avoid probate altogether. It is essential to understand what options might be available to you based on the size of your estate. For example, for estates less than $150,000 and no real property, your beneficiaries can transfer assets by non-court affidavit. Other court proceedings can be used for small estates with real property if the total value of the estate is under $150,000.

Avoid Probate and Set Up Your Estate Plan Today

These best three ways to avoid probate are certainly not all the options one may have to settle a California estate easily. Keep in mind that every state has different laws and there may be simplified probate procedures available to settle smaller estates. Of the three best ways to avoid probate, most attorneys suggest setting up a living trust. You may also want to visit the California State Bar’s website which provides additional information about estate planning.  When considering a living trust, remember, a comprehensive living trust package has several purposes. First, a living trust plans for the distribution of your estate upon death. Second, a living trust provides for contingency options should you become incapacitated. This avoids the equally expensive legal process of a conservatorship.

If you are looking for ways to avoid probate, you do not have to procrastinate any longer since estate planning is more affordable using the services of a registered legal document assistant. Furthermore, if you are reading this article, you are concerned about planning your estate, so there is no time like the present to get things started. Contact us through our website or call our office at 800-747-2780 to discuss our low-cost estate planning packages. You will be glad you did.

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By |2018-05-17T13:16:48+00:00May 16th, 2018|Estate Planning, Probate|0 Comments

About the Author:

Sandra M. McCarthy, founder of A People’s Choice Inc., has worked exclusively in the legal field since 1976. She served as the 2004-2005 President of CALDA (California Association of Legal Document Assistants). She obtained a Paralegal Certificate from the University of California, Santa Barbara. During her career in the legal field, she has worked as a freelance paralegal, law office manager and paralegal studies teacher, and has co-authored numerous legal publications and written hundreds of self-help legal articles. As a registered Legal Document Assistant, Sandy is dedicated to providing affordable, low-cost, self-help document preparation services for California consumers in all 58 counties.

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