Handling a loved one's death can be an extremely trying experience for any family. However, some individuals in California put more stress on themselves than is strictly necessary by worrying over a common process -- probate. While avoiding probate is a common goal of many estate plans, the process can be incredibly useful.
Fear around probate likely extends from not understanding what the process is. At its most basic, probate is the legal process in which, upon a person's death, their property is transferred. Not all property is subject to probate. Life insurance policies or bank accounts designated as payable on death are not required to pass through the process, which is passed on either by ownership or designation. Gifts, revocable trusts and joint ownership with survivorship rights also skirt probate.
Otherwise, property owned at the time of a person's death will be included in the probate process. However, before it can be distributed, all the probate property must be collected and any remaining debts, taxes or claims must be paid first. Afterwards, income owed to the estate -- including rent and other debts owed -- is collected. If there are no disputes regarding the will, the property may then be distributed to named heirs.
Probate is often painted in the light of feuding heirs fighting it out over minor details in a will. While there is a purpose for some disputes, many probate processes in California are completed without any significant issues. Careful estate planning can be used to simplify and ease the probate process for future heirs.
Source: FindLaw, "The Probate Basics", Accessed on Sept. 24, 2017