Probate is the legal process of transferring a deceased individual’s ownership rights upon their death. When the deceased person has no estate plan, will, trust, or other formal documents in place outlining their final wishes, the probate process is a necessary legal step for the deceased and their family.

Unfortunately, the probate process is notorious for its complexity and the stress involved. Probate can easily cause serious disputes among family members who believe they have certain beneficiary rights that do not entirely align with state laws. Probate is time-consuming, expensive, and stressful. Fortunately, an Orange County probate lawyer can potentially help you avoid the process entirely.

Can You Avoid Probate Court?

It is possible to avoid going to probate court as long as you take appropriate steps as soon as possible. There are several possible options for limiting the amount of time your family must spend in the probate process, potentially helping them avoid the probate process entirely:

  • Establish joint ownership. Probate requires the transfer of ownership of a deceased individual’s property to their beneficiaries. However, this is unnecessary for any property under joint ownership. If you want assets and property to transfer to a spouse or other relative, you can establish joint ownership.
  • Create Pay-on-Death accounts. You can establish Pay-on-Death rules for bank accounts and retirement accounts that activate upon your death and distribute the funds in your accounts to designated beneficiaries.
  • Draft a revocable living trust. Creating a trust allows you to place your assets into a trust, and ownership of the trust passes to your designated trustee upon your death. This means your trustee has the responsibility of distributing the contents of your trust according to your wishes. The benefit of establishing a revocable living trust is that you will be able to adjust it as you see fit in the future, including the addition of new assets.
  • Gift your property to loved ones. If you no longer own something, there is no need to go through the probate process. This is the ideal option if you have certain heirlooms, assets, and other property you wish to pass on to specific relatives.

These are only a few of the options available that can potentially help your family avoid lengthy probate proceedings.

Why Is It Good to Avoid Probate?

It is almost always preferable to avoid probate as much as possible. If the head of a household dies, their family may not have any immediate access to their accounts and experience significant financial hardship while the probate process unfolds. They will also need to pay for legal representation during the probate process, further exacerbating their economic problems.
The probate process itself is extraordinarily tedious, and the judge overseeing your probate case will need to provide every minute detail of every phase of the process. This is incredibly time-consuming and will ultimately lead to substantial legal fees. Finally, probate proceedings become public record.

What Does Not Go Through Probate?

If you have serious concerns about the expense and stress of probate on your family after your death, it’s vital to take appropriate precautions. Creating joint ownership on your accounts with your spouse, gifting certain assets, and creating a trust are just a few of the steps you should consider. However, it’s vital to consult an Orange County probate lawyer for specific advice about your situation. Your attorney can help you ensure these steps are executed correctly.

In some cases, assets you have configured to avoid probate may not work the way you expect. For example, if you have designated beneficiaries on any existing accounts, you must ensure your estate planning documents align with these designations. If any conflicts exist upon your death, this will require review during the probate process and may potentially inspire conflicts among your surviving loved ones.

Is Probate Required if I Have Power of Attorney?

Another possible method for avoiding the probate process is the creation of a durable Power of Attorney. If you designate a spouse or other loved one to hold Power of Attorney for you, it is a serious responsibility. They have the right to assume ownership over your property and make financial, legal, and medical decisions on your behalf under certain conditions.

Probate is a confusing and difficult process, and the legal issues involved can be incredibly challenging for a family in mourning. Taking the right precautions can potentially help your loved ones avoid the probate process to a significant degree, if not entirely. An Orange County probate lawyer can assist you with estate planning and provide professional insights into the probate process and what your family should expect from it.

The Law Office of Christopher P. Walker provides experienced and compassionate legal counsel for probate and estate planning in Southern California. If you’re ready to talk to an Orange County probate lawyer, contact us today and schedule a consultation.