• ways to avoid probate in california

Ways to Avoid Probate in California

There are many ways to avoid probate in California. Some estate planning tools are so simple that you can implement them without having to hire an attorney! From transferring property into a living trust, to avoiding probate by designating a payment-on-death beneficiary, A People’s Choice can help you prepare your estate planning documents so your surviving beneficiaries will not have to file probate. Read on to learn about 7 simple ways to avoid probate in California and how A People’s Choice can help.

7 Ways to Avoid Probate in California

Avoiding Probate With a Living Trust

In California, you can create a living trust to avoid probate. A living trust can serve as an alternative to a last will and testament. A living trust places your real property and assets “in trust” which are then managed by the trustee for the benefit of your beneficiaries. You can create a living trust for almost any asset you own: real estate, bank account, vehicle, or jewelry. When you create the trust, you must transfer property into it as well as designating a trustee (you can appoint yourself while living). Upon your death, the successor trustee will transfer the trust assets to the beneficiaries without having to go through the probate process.

Avoiding Probate with Payment on Death Designations

A “payable-on-death” designation can be used for bank accounts or certificates of deposits. The POD designation allows you to appoint a beneficiary of your asset (money) upon your death. The beneficiary will not have access to the asset while you are living. A POD declaration allows a beneficiary to collect the money directly from the bank upon your death without having to go through the probate process. It is not recommended to name a minor as a POD beneficiary. Doing so could be problematic when it comes time for the bank to release the funds. The guardian or parents may have to go to court and ask to be appointed as the minor’s guardian of the money before the bank will disperse the money in the account. It is common for people to name POD beneficiaries for several types of property including:

  • Bank accounts
  • Stocks and bonds
  • U.S. savings bonds

It is important to keep in mind that if the POD beneficiary dies before the account holder, the account holder should immediately update the beneficiary on the account. If the POD beneficiary predeceases the account owner and an alternate POD beneficiary has not been named, the account may have to be probated.

Avoiding Probate with TOD Deed

A transfer-on-death deed is used to transfer real property to a beneficiary upon their death. Such deeds are often called beneficiary deeds. The TOD deed can be signed and recorded and later revoked prior to death. The designated beneficiary will have no rights until death. Learn more about California’s new transfer on death deed in this article.

Difference Between POD and TOD

The POD designation is typically used to avoid the probate of bank accounts, stocks and bonds, and savings bonds. A transfer on death deed is used to transfer real property to the designated beneficiary upon death. Both designations can be revoked/modified while the owner is alive.

Vehicle Transfer on Death Registration in California

A vehicle transfer on death registration can be used to avoid the probate of vehicles in California. If you register your vehicle as a vehicle-transfer-on-death, the named beneficiary will automatically inherit the vehicle after your death. This is a great tool to use to avoid the probate of a vehicle in California.

Joint Tenancy Ownership of Property

There are many ways to hold title to real property in California. Holding property as joint tenants can be used to avoid probate in California. If you own property as a joint tenant with right of survivorship, the surviving owner will automatically own the property when the other owner dies. No probate is necessary. Community property with right of survivorship is another form of tenancy that can be used to transfer property acquired during marriage to the surviving spouse. Again, no probate is necessary for property to transfer.

Simplified Probate Procedures

Depending on the nature of your personal estate, you may be able to use California’s “small estate” probate procedures to have your property distributed among your beneficiaries. The gross value of the decedent’s real and personal property cannot exceed $150,000 to use such procedures.

Contact A People’s Choice for more information about ways to avoid probate in California.  One of the best ways to avoid probate in California is with proper estate planning. Did you know estate planning doesn’t need to cost thousands of dollars? You also don’t need to hire an attorney for this very routine process. We can help you prepare your estate planning documents at a reasonable fee. Call us at 800-747-2780 and learn how we can help you!

Get help with your Legal documents today!

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By |2018-01-18T15:47:06-07:00February 15th, 2016|Estate Planning, Probate|2 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.


  1. Bud Brewer May 12, 2016 at 5:21 am

    I understand why a referee is necessary to appraise non cash assets like personal property, Art, Real Estate and other non liquid assets, but why is a Referee necessary to appraise the value of that portion of an estate represented by a partnership interest held by the deceased in which the only assets are Mutual Funds and the redemption of which is determined at a set value each business day as calculated by the Fund’s management. It seems excessive to require the partnership’s management to submit a copy of their operating agreement along with all amendments relative to value or not. It would make more sense to require the Partnership management to supply only those sections of the Operating Agreement or Amendments that would apply to and or have an effect upon the value of or restriction on any distribution or transfer to a potential beneficiary. Providing copies of the full operating agreement and its amendments would seem superfluous and unnecessary.

    • Sandy McCarthy May 12, 2016 at 8:39 pm

      In our experience, the documentation requirements will vary from probate referee to probate referee. I do not believe the documentation requirements you are reference is mandatory across the board. The role of the probate referee is to accurately calculate a true value of assets that require appraisal. If a representative feels that the documentation requirement is invasive or over-the-top, I am sure they could simply relay their concerns to the assigned referee who could explain why they may need the documentation. A simple discussion with them could possibly alleviate this requirement.

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