Many people mistakenly believe that if they have a will, their estate will not go through probate. It is not that simple. Probate is a process where the court steps in to ensure a will is valid and that assets and property are properly distributed according to the will and within the laws of the state.
The probate process also pays all debts and taxes the decedent owes prior to the distribution of the estate. You can take steps through estate planning that will limit what goes through probate and shorten the delay of distribution.
1. Name an executor
Clearly name an executor in your will and inform them of their role. If your executor agrees to accept the responsibility upon your death, it will speed up the process. Take the extra step of naming a contingent or backup executor to take on the role if your primary executor refuses or passes before you.
2. Make accounts payable on death
Set up your bank accounts to be payable to named beneficiaries upon your death. It is as simple as filling out a form with your bank. After you pass, your beneficiaries must show your death certificate to the bank, but the account will not have to pass through probate. You can similarly set up life insurance and retirement accounts to transfer or pay on death.
3. Set up a living trust
In California, you may set up a living trust for most assets you own, including real property and vehicles. After your death, your trustee can transfer assets in the trust to your beneficiaries without the need for probate.
While it is possible that careful planning will not prevent probate entirely, planning ahead with these steps will prevent your entire estate from going through the probate process. Assets that can pass directly will do so without delay after your death. Probate can delay distribution up to 18 months or longer.