Probate is the legal process of collecting, organizing and distributing a person’s assets and estate after they have passed away. At its essence, probate is the handling of a person’s affairs, such as paying off debts or bills and distributing the remaining assets to heirs and beneficiaries.
Probate begins with a court petition to open the proceedings and assign a person to execute the wishes and instructions of the deceased in accordance with California probate law. Interested parties will then receive official notices regarding the deceased person’s assets and any hearings to resolve the matter.
The notices will typically be sent to family members, heirs, and any third parties who the deceased may have owed money. After all the estate's debts are paid, the remainder of the property and assets will be distributed to the proper heirs, while a petition to discharge is filed and the estate proceeding closed.
What Goes to Probate?
Any assets that are still in the deceased person’s name are required to pass through probate even if a will was left behind. Assets like bank accounts, other investments, homes, real estate property, vehicles or anything else with a title of ownership. Only a probate court can take a deceased person’s name off a title and transfer it to another person.
The assets that avoid probate are joint accounts that transfer to the surviving owner, assets with a valid beneficiary designation, and assets that were placed into a trust before a person’s death. Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules and even those assets do not always avoid the probate process.
How To Avoid Probate
The simplest way to avoid probate is by forming a living trust and transferring ownership of all assets to the trust. The document allows for the simple transfer of property to beneficiaries once the primary owner passes away and it may be the strongest way to protect your assets while living.
Unfortunately, if one of your family members or friends died without a living trust, a will is not enough to keep their assets out of court. However, there are still many ways in which an experienced attorney can speed up the probate process and make sure the deceased person's final wishes and instructions are followed.
At Elder Law Services of California, we specialize in the probate process and helping out clients during the most difficult situations like the death of a loved one. If you are in the process of probate, or will be soon, please give us a call at (800) 403-6078 to schedule a FREE consultation with one of our expert probate attorneys. We look forward to working with you.