Probate is often unfairly portrayed as an unnecessary and archaic procedure. Many people in California make avoiding probate one of their priorities during estate planning, even if they do not fully understand the benefits and downsides of the process. While it is not always an ideal outcome, probate can be useful when approached correctly.
One of the primary purposes of probate is to prove the validity of a person's will. If a family member is worried that the presented will is an older, no-longer relevant copy or otherwise invalid, probate is the time to contest it. However, this can be a lengthy process that involves considerable time and financial resources, so family members should be certain of their decision to contest the will before doing so.
Probate also creates an inventory of a person's estate and property. Although a will should already have a complete list of property, probate also ensures that it is properly appraised and valued. Any remaining debt or taxes are then paid on the estate's behalf, either through money owned by the estate or by selling off property. Once the will is validated, property is inventoried and appraised and debts are repaid, remaining assets are then distributed to heirs according to the will's directions.
Avoiding probate is an understandable desire as some of its processes -- such as compiling a list of assets -- overlap with that of a will. Probate can also require additional time and money. However, for some people in California, probate is impossible to avoid, and in such instances should be well-understood to avoid making critical mistakes that could affect the estate and any possible inheritances.