What families should know about California probate

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What families should know about California probate

Understanding how probate works in California can help inform your estate plan. With this legal process, the court supervises your designated executor as he or she distributes assets according to your will, pays final expenses and otherwise settles your affairs.

These considerations will help you understand whether your estate may need probate in California so you can plan accordingly based on your objectives.

Probate vs. non-probate assets

Only some assets require probate. California exempts items you own in joint tenancy with someone else and property held in a living trust. You can also avoid probate for bank and investment accounts by naming a payable on death beneficiary.

Your estate must go through probate if non-exempt assets have a total worth exceeding the state limit, currently $166,250 in 2021. With smaller estates, your heirs can claim property by filing an affidavit with the court.

What happens during probate

While probate has a lengthy, costly reputation, California has a shorter and more affordable process than in many other states. The state requires probate to remain open for at least four months so that creditors can file claims against the estate. Your executor must distribute assets to your beneficiaries within 12 months of opening the estate or 18 months if your estate owes final federal taxes.

Careful estate planning will influence whether your estate requires probate. For example, if you want to avoid probate, you can open a trust and transfer the bulk of your assets to its ownership. Naming a trustworthy executor can help ensure that the process of settling your estate goes smoothly.