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Some tips to avoiding probate in California

We hear the word a lot - probate - but what does it really mean?

Put simply, it's the process in California and throughout the United States when it comes to determining the validity of a will and then acting upon that will to distribute the assets of a deceased person. But it isn't usually quite that simple. Probate involves going to court, having a judge appoint an executor and sometimes hear testimony and devoting time and money that probably doesn't need to be spent.

So, as you embark on your estate planning efforts, you can look into ways to avoid probate. Here are three ideas:

  1. Put ownership of property into joint tenancy. That means your joint tenant - usually your spouse -- immediately will become the owner of the property upon your death. The property is removed from your estate when ownership transfers, so it will not be subject to probate.
  2. Assign a beneficiary to assets that allow them, such as life insurance, retirement accounts or annuities. For some accounts, designating them as "payable" or "transferable" on death makes it similar to adding a beneficiary.
  3. Create a living trust, also known as a revocable trust. When you put your assets into a trust, you have access to use them during your lifetime. Upon your death, the trust shifts to an irrevocable one, and the assets will be distributed as you outlined in your trust documents. Assets in the trust are taken out of your estate, allowing them to bypass probate. You also will need to have a will to use in conjunction with your trust.

These are just some ideas for simplifying your estate and avoiding probate. Your experienced estate planning attorney can answer your questions and offer additional guidance.

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