Probate is a legal process that happens when you die. The probate process is designed to legally transfer property out of your name into the name of an heir or beneficiary, help ensure the terms of your will are carried out properly, and pay off any outstanding debts, such as your funeral bills, estate administration and credit card balances. California has three types of probate proceedings: small estates with assets valued at less than $100,000; independent probate for estates with a will; and court-supervised probate.
Speak to a licensed California probate attorney to begin your estate planning process and explore all of your options. As of May 2011, California requires some form of probate when you die. You may not be able to avoid probate completely, but a professional attorney can help you minimize the process for your loved ones and heirs.
Ask your attorney about joint ownership of property and real estate with the right of survivorship clause. This joint ownership status makes it so the property automatically passes in full to the co-owner when you die, without the property having to be placed into the probate assets pool.
Ask your attorney about payable-on-death investment and banking accounts, as well as life insurance. Bank accounts and some investment or retirement accounts allow you to designate the funds to a specific person when you die. Designating funds in this manner and assigning a named beneficiary to life insurance policies, ensures that these assets are paid directly to the person you want them paid to. They do not get included in the probate estate.
Ask your attorney about setting up a living trust. Revocable living trusts normally allow you to retain ownership and control over assets in the trust while ensuring they pass to a specific person when you pass away. They are not included in probate, and you can modify both assets and beneficiaries over time as desired.
Lawyers who specialize in estate law for California may have additional specific asset protection measures that can help you in your specific situation.