If a decedent’s entire estate needs to be probated in California, the process can take between nine and 18 months (or even longer in some cases). That is a lengthy and expensive proposition. Thankfully, such cases are rare for most people who have done even basic estate planning.
If the estate is worth less than $150,000, there are numerous probate alternatives available that can allow ownership of property to be transferred without having to go to probate court. Some examples are provided below:
Transferring assets between joint owners at death. Property is easy to pass along if it is considered jointly owned. When spouses co-own a significant piece of property (such as a home), the decedent’s ownership stake is automatically transferred to his or her spouse upon death. Jointly owned bank accounts are another common example.
Contracts with named beneficiaries. Some contracts and other legal documents require the signer to name beneficiaries, which means the assets referred to in the contracts would not be subject to probate. Examples include life insurance policies, trusts, retirement benefits and death benefits.
Transferring personal property by affidavit. If the assets to be inherited are worth less than $150,000 (and are not real property such as land or a home), you may be able to seek transfer of ownership through one or more affidavits. Several important documents will need to be filed with the affidavit, and you may need to have the affidavit notarized. But on the whole, using affidavits can be faster, easier and cheaper than going through the probate process.
Use of traditional wills and trusts. Avoiding probate can also be as simple as having a well-written will or trust in place. This cannot prevent probate in all cases, but solid estate planning with the help of an attorney can go a long way in keeping your family out of probate court.
Bottom Line: Speak To An Experienced Lawyer
The best way to understand what probate alternatives are available is to discuss your case with an experienced estate planning attorney. At Marissa Sirota Law PLC, we take the time to examine your case and explain all of the options available to you.
To schedule an appointment or to learn more about our services, contact us via email, or call our Davis office at (530) 231-5853.