How to Avoid Probate in California

There’s no question that establishing one’s end of life plans can be uncomfortable. We all know it’s something we should get around to but we tend to put off facing our own mortality, and trust me, you’re not alone. A 2017 survey by Caring.com showed that only 42 percent of U.S. adults had current estate planning documents such as a will or living trust, however, getting those legal documents in place is essential to maintaining control of what happens to your assets after you have passed away.

Regardless of your age or the number of assets you own, it’s important to understand your legal options and to work with a trusted attorney who can ensure your last wishes are respected. When your family is grieving your passing, the last thing you want for them is to have to deal with stressful legal complications.

I am Amy Fike Peters, an attorney with the law practice of “Estate Preservation Group.” I have over 33 years of experience as a practicing lawyer and make my home in Carlsbad and practice here and in the surrounding communities. I understand this North San Diego County area and what my neighbors need when it comes to preparing an estate plan that will make the legal transition easier for your family and help them avoid probate and manage the administration of a trust. I want to make this as easy for your family as I would for my own loved ones.

This article will outline how to prepare so your family can avoid the complications and the expense and hassle of the probate process. Please don’t hesitate to schedule a consultation with me if this article triggers questions or you are interested in getting your affairs in order.

What is Probate?

Many people believe a Will is all they need to pass their estate to loved ones after they die, but it isn’t that easy.  Generally, for a Will to be validated, it must be affirmed through the court process of probate, wherein the Court takes dominion of the documents to authenticate them and thereafter supervises the legal management of the estate (including its debts) of the deceased. Specifically, the probate process includes:

  • Transferring ownership of the property from the decedent to their beneficiaries;
  • Assessing appraisals of estate assets;
  • Determining the validity of the will in question;
  • Taking care of the deceased’s remaining financial responsibilities and notifying creditors and paying off debts.

You want to avoid probate, believe me, because the statutorily assigned attorney fees, the administrative fees, court fees, accommodator fees, appraisal fees, (seriously, so many fees!) can add up quickly. In the interim, your family may not be able to access the assets and it can be a long process.  Keep in mind too, there is only one probate court in all of San Diego County, so there is a waiting process to this as well.

In other words, the last thing you want for your family is to have to worry about the legalities of distributing your estate. So how can you help them avoid it?

Avoiding Probate in California

Simplified Procedures

Estates of $150,000 or less do not need to be probated. The estate amount is calculated by totaling all probate assets of the deceased minus any non-probate assets, which can include:

  • Financial assets such as retirement accounts (i.e. IRAs, 401Ks)
  • Jointly-owned assets
  • Assets held by a living trust

For example, let's say your home, car, and other probate assets are valued at $500,000, but you have retirement accounts valued at $200,000. The $200,000 is subtracted, but your total estate value would be $300,000. Unless your home or car was also jointly-owned, then you would not be able to save your family from probate using the simplified procedures method.

Jointly-owned Assets

Another way you can keep your assets from being tangled up in probate is by sharing ownership of your assets. For example, if you are married it’s generally a good idea to have your spouse also listed as an owner to any bank accounts or real estate property you own. In the case that you or your spouse were to pass away, the surviving spouse would automatically assume full ownership of the remaining assets.

Living Trusts

The best way to avoid probate is to create a Revocable “living” trust as part of your estate plan. This is the best way to directly pass your assets to your intended beneficiaries because the authority over those assets passes seamlessly to the successor trustee after your death, with surprisingly few documents required to effect this transfer and you can include most of your assets in your trust.

Legal Guidance for Families of North San Diego County

To get started on outlining a process that works for you, reach out today and schedule a free consultation.


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