Formal probate can be a costly process, both with regard to the monetary expense and the time required to probate an estate. For that reason, many people choose to incorporate probate avoidance tools and strategies into their estate plan in an effort to limit the time and money spent on probating the estate. In addition, most states, including the State of California, offer an alternative to formal probate for small estates that qualify. Whether you are creating your estate plan and wish to discuss ways to limit your estate’s exposure to probate, or you are administering an estate and wish to know if the estate can avoid formal probate, the experienced Los Angeles, California probate attorneys at Schomer Law Group can help.
Tools and Strategies to Help Your Estate Avoid Probate
A comprehensive estate plan does more than just determine how your estate assets will be distributed upon your death. Probate avoidance is one of the most popular of the additional estate planning goals and objectives you may incorporate into your estate plan. Although you may not be able to avoid probate entirely, the following tools and strategies can significantly diminish the amount of time and money your estate expends on the probate process:
- Creating a trust – assets owned by a trust bypass the probate process altogether. For this reason alone, people often create a revocable living trust and transfer estate assets into the trust. Because you can name yourself as the Trustee of the trust you can continue to manage and control those assets during your lifetime. Upon your death the trust assets can be distributed to beneficiaries easily and quickly using the trust terms created by you.
- Changing account designations to “POD or TOD” – many financial accounts can be held as a “payable on death (POD)” account which allows you to designate a beneficiary who will automatically become the owner of the account assets upon your death. California also allows you to add a “transfer on death (TOD)” designation to vehicles and certain securities which transfers ownership of the asset to your designated beneficiary upon your death. Unlike joint ownership, a designated beneficiary on a POD or TOD account/asset has no legal ownership interest in the account/asset while you are alive.
- Using the right type of joint ownership — when property is titled as joint owners “with rights of survivorship” it means that upon the death of one owner, his/her interest in the property automatically passes to the remaining co-owners without going through probate.
- Relying on life insurance proceeds in lieu of cash or other assets – life insurance proceeds also bypass the probate process. As such, a life insurance policy can be used strategically to help your estate avoid probate and provide loved ones with access to much needed assets as soon as possible after you are gone.
California’s Small Estate Alternative
If you are the Executor of a Last Will and Testament, the Administrator of an intestate estate, or a surviving spouse, you may be interested in California’s small estate alternatives to formal probate, including:
- Spousal or Domestic Partner Property Petition – as a surviving spouse or domestic partner you may be entitled to file a “Spousal or Domestic Partner Property Petition” to acquire a court order that says what your share of the community property is and what part of your deceased spouse or partner’s share of community and separate property belongs to you.
- Petition to Determine Succession to Real Property – this applies to real property valued at less than $150,000. If the estate qualifies, you can file the Petition to Determine Succession to Real Property” with the court and obtain a court order instead of the real property being required to go through formal probate.
- Small Estate Affidavit – you may be able to transfer personal property using a small estate affidavit is all of the following are true:
- You are legally entitled to inherit from the estate
- The estate value is less than $150,000
- You are only transferring personal property
Contact the Los Angeles Probate Attorneys at Schomer Law Group Today!
At The Schomer Law Group, we are committed to helping you create an estate plan that meets all your needs, including the avoidance of probate. Likewise, we can help you probate the estate of a loved one, and possibly avoid formal probate, if you have been designated as the Executor or Administrator of the estate. Contact the California office of the Schomer Law Group today by calling (310) 337-7696 or (562) 346-3209 or by filling out our online contact form.