Creating a will helps ensure that the state distributes your assets according to your wishes after you die. However, even if you have a will, your estate may have to go through the probate process.
What are the reasons an estate goes through probate?
What probate is
Probate is a court proceeding that accomplishes several tasks:
- Determines if a will is valid
- Calculates how much property in the estate is worth
- Determines who the beneficiaries and heirs of the estate are
- Settles the debts of the estate
- Transfers the estate to the beneficiaries or heirs
- Appoints an executor or administrator of the estate
The process may take between nine to 18 months or longer.
Reasons an estate passes through probate
The probate process is the default for most estates in California unless the estate holder took steps to avoid it. You can usually avoid probate by placing all of your assets in a living trust. Alternatively, you can list your assets as payable on death. Some assets, such as life insurance, have named beneficiaries and do not need to go through probate because the property passes to the named beneficiary. Additionally, property that is jointly owned passes automatically to the surviving owner. Finally, you may be able to avoid probate on real estate by using a transfer on death deed.
Some property is exempt from the probate process. However, most estates are subject to probate unless the decedent placed all non-exempt property in a living trust. For this reason, persons wishing to avoid probate may want to take estate planning steps beyond creating a will.