Considering that probating a decedent's entire estate can take between nine and 18 months (or longer for more complex estates), it's worth knowing the options for minimizing probate costs or avoiding probate altogether.
In California, if you have certain assets whose value totals more than $150,000 at the time of death, your estate is subject to probate. However, if your estate is worth less than $150,000, here are some probate alternatives to think about:
Use one or more affidavits to transfer property.
- If the assets are not real property such as land or a home, and if the value of the assets does not exceed $150,000, you may be able to use one or more affidavits to transfer property more quickly, easily and cheaply than going through probate. Keep in mind that the affidavits may need notarization, and that other important documents will need to accompany them, so it's important to have the help of an estate planning and probate attorney in these matters.
Use contracts with named beneficiaries.
- A variety of contracts and legal documents require you -- the signer -- to name beneficiaries, and the assets addressed in the contracts can be kept out of probate. Examples of such documents include trusts, retirement plans, insurance policies and death benefits.
Transfer assets between joint owners.
- When spouses jointly own property (the family home, for example), ownership of the property is automatically transferred at the time of death from the deceased spouse to the surviving spouse. Other kinds of jointly owned property such as bank accounts can also be easily transferred and kept out of probate.
Use a traditional will or trust.
- In many cases -- but not all -- probate can be avoided by having a well-written will or trust. If you are interested in drafting these important estate planning documents, or if you are interested in updating your existing will, an experienced estate planning and probate attorney can help.
For more on that, please see Marissa Sirota Law's overview, "Do I Need a Will or a Trust?"