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5 tips to keep your estate out of California probate court

There's more to an estate plan than writing a will. In fact, a complete estate plan can transfer your financial and physical property to your heirs without your assets being subject to the California probate process.

The purpose of probate is to make sure a will is valid or to settle an estate if no will is left behind. The probate process can take time and prove costly. Don't you want your beneficiaries to receive your assets as soon as possible?

As you create your estate plan, here a few basic things you could do to keep your estate out of probate.

  1. Make sure your property is owned jointly with your spouse, significant other or any person you want to have the property after you're gone. Property that is properly titled as joint tenancy will be transferred to the other party without going through probate and even without a will.
  2. List a beneficiary for all of your financial accounts. That includes life insurance, and bank, retirement and investment accounts. Your bank or brokerage should be able to provide you with a simple form to fill out. The assets will transfer automatically upon your death, without probate.
  3. Create a living trust and move your assets into the trust account. You'll have paperwork to complete, including designating what is called a successor trustee who will distribute the assets upon your death. There are costs involved to set up a trust, but they are much less than the cost of probate.
  4. Put your home into a life estate. That means you can live in the property throughout your life and give what is called a "remainder interest" to the parties after your death. They will become the owners of the property after your death.
  5. Make a gift of your assets while you are living. You can transfer property to a person or charity at any time. You will be assured the property won't go through probate, and you might even be able to watch the beneficiaries get great enjoyment from your gift.

Some of these are do-it-yourself options. Others require the guidance of an attorney with experience in estate planning. It's worth it when you consider what your heirs have to gain if you take just a few extra steps now.

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