Probate in California

If you’re considering estate law issues in California, you may have heard about the probate process and its potential complexities. A common question that arises is whether having a will can help you avoid probate. In this article, we’ll explore this topic in-depth and provide valuable insights into the role of a will in the probate process in California. We’ll also address key questions surrounding estate planning, probate, and the advantages of proper preparation. Read on to gain a clearer understanding of how you can navigate the California probate system.


What Is Probate in California?

Understanding the Probate Process

Formal probate in California is the legal process of settling and distributing a deceased person’s estate. This process ensures that the decedent’s debts are paid, assets are properly appraised, and the remaining property within the estate is distributed to beneficiaries or heirs as outlined in their will or according to state law if there is no valid will.

Key Terms: Estate, Beneficiary, Executor

  • Estate: The total value of a person’s assets, including real estate, financial holdings, personal property, and more that are subject to probate.
  • Beneficiary: An individual or entity designated to receive assets or property from the estate.
  • Executor: The person named in the will or appointed by the court to manage the estate during probate.

Wills and the Probate Process in California

Does a Will Allow You to Bypass Probate?

While a will provides important instructions for the distribution of assets after one’s passing, it does not allow you to entirely avoid formal probate in California. Instead, having a will can streamline the probate process by clearly stating your wishes and naming an executor to oversee the process.

The California Probate Process with a Will

Here is a brief overview of the probate process in California:

  1. Filing a petition for Probate: The will is filed with the court in the county where the deceased resided.
  2. Validating the Will: The probate court confirms the validity of the will.
  3. Appointment of an Executor: If named in the will, the executor is appointed. Otherwise, the court selects one.
  4. Notifying Heirs and Creditors: Heirs and creditors are notified of the probate proceedings and the upcoming probate hearing.
  5. Managing Assets: The executor manages the deceased’s assets, pays debts, and distributes property to beneficiaries as specified in the will.

Benefits of Having a Will

Having a will in California offers several advantages:

  • Clarity: Your wishes are clearly defined, reducing the potential for disputes among heirs.
  • Executor Choice: You can select an executor you trust to manage your estate.
  • Minor Guardianship: You can name guardians for minor children in your will.
  • Peace of Mind: Knowing your assets such as real property will be distributed according to your preferences can provide peace of mind.

How a Probate Attorney Can Help You Avoid California Probate Court

In addition to having a will, there are other aspects of planning your estate that can help bypass probate court. Meeting with a probate lawyer in Temecula can help you find the best options for your situation. Take a look at other ways to protect your assets and save your family time and money after your passing:

  • Revocable Trust: Assets can be placed in a trust and used by the owner of the trust (grantor) while they are alive. Once the grantor passes away, the assets remain in the trust and follow the rules set by the grantor for distribution to beneficiaries. This may include doling out the money once the beneficiaries reach a certain age.
  • Retirement Account: The money in a retirement account goes directly to the beneficiary without entering probate. Set up a retirement account and name your beneficiary to secure your money in the bank.
  • Joint Ownership on Real Estate: When you have two property owners, and one passes away, the property automatically goes to the co-owner. This joint owner becomes the sole owner of the real estate.
  • Life Insurance: The beneficiary on your life insurance will receive the benefits at the time of death. The money will not have to pass through probate.

You have a variety of options that will allow you to avoid having to probate assets. While a will is important, it is just the first step. You have even more ways that can help you prepare for the unexpected.

Living Trusts: An Effective Probate Avoidance Strategy

One of the most effective ways to bypass formal probate court in California is by establishing a living trust. This type of trust allows you to transfer ownership of your assets into the trust during your lifetime. Upon your passing, the assets are distributed to your chosen beneficiaries without the need to go through probate.

Establishing the Trust

To establish this type of trust in California, follow these steps:

  1. Create the Trust: Draft a trust document, designating yourself as the trustee during your lifetime.
  2. Transfer Assets: Transfer ownership of your assets into the trust.
  3. Name Successor Trustees: Designate someone to manage the trust if you become incapacitated or pass away.
  4. Beneficiary Designation: Specify how and when assets are to be distributed to beneficiaries.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do I need a will if I have a living trust in California?

Yes, having a will alongside the trust is advisable to cover any assets that were not transferred to the trust during your lifetime.

Can a will be contested in California?

Yes, under probate code, a will can be contested in California on grounds such as fraud, undue influence, or lack of capacity. Other potential beneficiaries can become involved in the probate case during the process, if they believe they are entitled to estate assets, and could file a claim with the court.

How much does probate cost in California?

The cost of probate court in California can vary but typically includes court fees, attorney fees, and other associated costs. Some probate fees are set by state law.

How long does probate take?

Most cases require 9 to 18 months, from when the probate petition is filed to the eventual conclusion of the case. However, some exceptions can occur, such as when a Will is contested, a probate referee is required, and other complications that can lengthen the process.

What happens if someone dies without a will in California?

If someone with an estate in California dies without a will (intestate), probate is required, the estate is subject to the probate process, and assets are distributed according to state intestate succession laws.

Can a living trust be changed or revoked in California?

Yes, the arrangement can be amended or revoked as long as the grantor (the person who established the trust) is mentally competent.

Should I consult with an attorney to plan my estate?

Consulting with an experienced attorney can help you navigate the complexities of probate, living trusts, and other aspects of estate planning. Probate can be avoided with sound planning.

How can I set up trust in California?

To establish a trust in California, consult with an experienced law firm to draft the necessary documents on behalf of the estate and ensure proper execution.

What is the difference between a will and a living will in California?

A will (last will and testament) outlines how your assets such as real property are to be distributed after your death, while a living will (advance healthcare directive) specifies your healthcare preferences in the event you cannot communicate them yourself.

By understanding the relationship between wills, probate, and other estate matters, you can make informed decisions to protect your assets and ensure your wishes are carried out effectively according to California law. For personalized guidance on planning, the probate procedure, the federal estate tax, or living trusts, contact our experienced California estate planning attorneys. Don’t leave the fate of your estate to chance—take proactive steps to secure your legacy.

We are here to help you find ways that you can protect your assets, distribute real property, and minimize estate taxes after your death.  For an expert probate attorney in Temecula, call Shoup Legal has the counsel you need. Contact us at (951) 494-6472 or email us at [email protected] to learn more.