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Meinzer Law Firm, PC

What is probate, and what are some ways to avoid it?

Most individuals have never sat down to draft their estate planning documents. Even fewer have been asked to serve as an executor of someone's estate. If you've never done either one of these, then you may know very little about the probate process. You should learn what happens to a decedent's estate during this process though.

The term probate involves the opening of a court case. This usually gets underway when an executor of an estate locates and files a decedent's will with the probate court in the county where that person resided.

One of the first responsibilities of the judge presiding over the case is to determine whether the will is valid under California law. The judge will generally ask the executor to inventory and preserve the value of all of the decedent's assets and to identify a testator's beneficiaries or heirs.

The final responsibilities that executors have are to file a decedent's final tax return, pay off their creditors and transfer any remaining assets to the heirs or beneficiaries. The case can then be closed.

You should know that you don't have to leave everything your loved ones in a will or have your estate handled through the probate process. You may be able to sign a joint tenancy agreement with the right of survivorship. This will allow your loved ones to more easily inherit your home when you pass away. You can accomplish the same with a beneficiary or transfer-on-death deed too.

If you have a bank account, retirement plan or an insurance policy, then you can fill out a beneficiary designation form for each of these. You can easily pass on these accounts to your designee without your asset having to pass through the probate process.

You can also place your property into a living trust to avoid them having certain assets probated once you pass on.

There are many legal and tax implications associated with the different estate planning options that individuals have at their disposal. An attorney can advise you of the many different ways that you can pass your property on to your loved ones and the pros and cons of doing so. Many of these options can help you avoid a significant portion of the probate process here in Torrance or elsewhere in California.

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