Can an estate avoid probate court?

With a California estate plan, there are often questions as to whether it is necessary to go to probate court or if the case can be settled using simplified procedures. This is true when during the estate planning process and after the testator has died. As with most legal issues, this depends on the situation. There are certain factors that will determine the need to head to court. The amount of money that is in the estate, what kind of property there is, and the person or persons who are claiming the property will all factor in.

It is possible that the way the property is owned will be the deciding factor in the need or absence of need to go to probate court. The type of title ownership is important. The decedent's property might go straight to the beneficiaries based on the way it is owned. If there was a joint tenancy, was community property with a right of survivorship, if there was a bank account that several people had ownership of, or if there was a transferring of a back account to another when the owner died, then the survivor will receive the property. There are legal steps to take when a person is taking over a property in this manner.

Also important is the type of contract. The decedent's property might not have to go through probate to be given to the beneficiaries. If the contract has named beneficiaries, this might be the case. If, for example, there is a life insurance policy that provides benefits to someone other than the estate, there is a trust, death benefits or retirement benefits, then probate might not be required.

Probate can be confusing. Those who are unaccustomed to legal proceedings or do not understand it could engage in family disputes regarding the estate even if the decedent took the steps to have a coherent estate plan. With the death of a loved one, uncertainty regarding the estate and how it will be allocated, a legal professional who is experienced with estate planning and probate can help with deciding if probate court is needed or if it is possible to have a simplified proceeding and then provide guidance throughout the process.

Source: courts.ca.gov, "Wills, Estates, and Probate -- Deciding If You Need to Go to Probate Court and Whether You Can Use Simplified Procedures," accessed on May 2, 2017

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