How to Avoid Probate in California

What is probate?

Probate is the legal process by which property and assets are transferred from the possession of a deceased individual to his or her heirs or beneficiaries. Most situations in which an individual with property dies require probate to disperse the estate because he or she would otherwise have to provide a signature in order to transfer funds and property such as bank accounts, houses and cars.

Probate can be a lengthy process that involves fees and requires wait times before beneficiaries can access their inheritances. But with some strategic planning and the help of California law firm Favaro, Lavezzo, Gill, Caretti & Heppell, PC you may be able to avoid the probate process altogether.

Avoiding the probate process

In California, four estate planning mechanisms exist that allow for transfer of property ownership without going through the traditional probate process:

  • Joint tenancy ownership — If you have assets such as bank accounts or a home or vehicle, adding one or more names to the account or title will allow that individual (or those individuals) to take full ownership of the asset after your death without having to undergo probate. The Multi-Party Account Laws in California Probate Code provide for joint tenancy and require that the surviving owner(s) of the asset provide only a valid death certificate in order to complete the title transfer. It is important to note that any accounts or assets with joint tenancy do not become part of your estate after your death, and therefore are not controlled by your will or trust.
  • Trusts — You can also set up a living trust to hold certain assets for one or more beneficiaries to receive while avoiding probate. Typically, you designate one or more trustees to manage the trust after your death and oversee distribution of the asset(s), including transfer of titles, when applicable.
  • Beneficiary designation — If you carry a life insurance policy or retirement account(s), you can designate a beneficiary of those funds upon your death. You must simply complete a beneficiary designation form for the particular account and file it with the appropriate financial institution (life insurance company or employer), and your beneficiary will be able to avoid probate and automatically gain control when you die.
  • Summary probate procedures — Under California Probate Code, there are certain situations in which your beneficiaries can complete summary probate procedures — simple court filings — that avoid probate in the traditional sense. First, if your estate at the time of your death is worth less than $100,000.00, the beneficiary named in your will needs only to complete a small estates affidavit. Second, if you are married at the time of your death, your spouse needs only to complete a spousal property petition in order to transfer the property into his or her own name. Note that some summary probate procedures require court hearings and others do not.

Contact our skilled attorneys now to avoid probate and minimize intrusion

The attorneys of Favaro, Lavezzo, Gill, Caretti & Heppell, PC can determine how to avoid probate for your beneficiaries in a way that makes the most sense for your unique circumstances. To learn more about our estate planning services, call our law firm at 707-552-3630 today or contact us online.

For our clients’ convenience, we maintain offices in Vallejo and Fairfield-Suisun, California, and we are easily accessible throughout Contra Costa, Napa and Solano Counties. Furthermore, we’re glad to schedule appointments at your availability — even outside normal workday hours. Members of our staff speak Spanish, Tagalog and Ilocano, allowing us to accommodate a diverse client base.