The short answer is no. Verifying the legitimacy of a will before your named executor can distribute the estate to the designated beneficiaries is one of the most vital aspects of the probate process. Therefore, even if you have a will, the executor will still need to bring the will to court along with your certified death certificate and supporting documents. Fortunately, effective estate planning may help your loved ones avoid the lengthy probate process.
How can you avoid probate?
Assets subject to the California probate process comprise any property you own, including real estate, bank accounts, personal property, vehicles, intellectual property, art, jewelry, stocks and bonds. The tools below can allow you to transfer these to your heirs and beneficiaries automatically upon death.
- Living trusts: You can transfer all your assets subject to probate into a living trust and maintain ownership of the trust while you are alive. You can make changes to the trust throughout your lifetime. Remember, you must fund the trust and designate a trustee you can rely on to manage the trust after your death.
- Joint tenancy: In California, you can share the interests of certain assets equally, such as real estate, vehicles or bank accounts, by naming a joint tenant. Joint tenancy allows the surviving owners to receive ownership immediately when the other owner dies. However, tax repercussions may arise whenever establishing joint tenancy.
- Payable-on-death (POD) designation: You can also create a POD account and designate a beneficiary to inherit the funds. The beneficiary cannot claim any rights to the asset while you are living, and you can change them anytime.
- Transfer-on-death (TOD) designation: You can also register your securities and vehicles in a TOD arrangement, where the ownership of the assets will transfer to your beneficiary by design at your death. California also allows individuals to leave real estate with TOD deeds or beneficiary deeds.
What is great about estate planning is that there are different instruments you can use depending on your assets to help your loved ones avoid probate. However, it would be best to understand each one first to maximize the benefits.