When someone dies, their estate usually passes through a probate court. The court determines the existence and validity of any will, the estate’s beneficiaries and the value of the estate. Under the supervision of the court, an executor will take care of the decedent’s responsibilities and distribute the estate to the heirs.
So, do all estates go through probate?
Some assets or estates can avoid probate
In California, property can sometimes be distributed to beneficiaries without going to court – through a simple transfer process. Different factors determine if an asset can be transferred using this procedure or not.
- If an asset has named beneficiaries, it will bypass probate. An example where this is common practice is life insurance policies.
- If the deceased owned property in joint tenancy, the surviving owner typically gets the entire property.
- If the deceased owned property under community property laws with the right of survivorship, the surviving spouse or partner may get the entire estate.
- Social Security survivor benefits can usually be collected without going to a probate court.
Entire estates with a value of $166,250 or less may also qualify for a simple transfer process.
What if an estate lacks a will?
If the person who died did not write a will, they are said to have died intestate. A probate court will step in and appoint an administrator to manage things and distribute them according to the state’s intestate laws.
Learning more about how to create an effective estate plan increases the chance your assets reach the people you want with the minimum of fuss when you die. If you wish to avoid probate altogether, there may be ways to do it.