Probate is a legal word for the legal process whereby a court oversees the distribution of assets left by a deceased person to the appropriate beneficiaries. Assets are anything a person owns with value, such as real and personal property and cash, for instance. If you have a will, the process includes proving that the will is valid and ensuring that assets are distributed according to its provisions. Otherwise, the probate court will oversee the distribution of your assets according to state law. The probate process is a matter of public record and can be costly and time consuming. There are many estate planning strategies that enable you to avoid or bypass the probate process. These strategies typically involve providing for the transfer of your assets through joint ownership, trusts, or gifts while you are alive, instead of through a will.

  • Clear title to land, stocks and bonds, or large bank or savings and loan accounts that were held in the name of the deceased person only, and put the title to these assets in the names of the rightful beneficiaries.
  • Collect debts owed to the deceased person.
  • Settle a dispute between people who claim they are entitled to assets of the deceased person.
  • Resolve any disputes about the validity of the deceased person’s will.

Developing a proper estate plan requires setting concrete goals.   Ask yourself, “Who do you want to provide for when you die?”  Your attorney will help you determine how this should be accomplished.  Identifying your estate planning goals becomes the framework for undertaking other activities, such as:

  • Taking inventory of your assets and deciding on the appropriate form of ownership.
  • Preparing your will and other legal documents.
  • Reviewing your insurance coverage.
  • Estimating tax liabilities and the net estate available for distribution.
  • Identify and evaluate alternative strategies to meet your goals.

Probate is a process where the court distributes your assets after your death and will appoint legal guardians for your children if you have not already done so.  Your family will have to “go to probate” court if you do not do correct estate planning while you are alive.  This means that a judge will make all of the decisions about your estate and who your children go to, what they inherit — after your death — if you do NOT properly plan while you are alive!   Probate is long, public and expensive.  Probate costs in California generally run between 4% and 5% of the estate. So, a $500,000 estate will cost between $20,000 to $25,000! HOWEVER, with proper planning, you can avoid probate.

Answered by Attorney Martha Patterson, one of California’s TOP Elder Law Attorneys.  (There are fewer than 40 lawyers in California who are Certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation.)

Martha Patterson is experienced in Wills, Trusts, Probate, Estate Planning, Trust law, Long Term Care Medi-Cal and Veteran’s Benefits.

Attorney Patterson and her firm are Featured on ElderCareMatters.com – America’s National Directory of Elder Care / Senior Care Resources to help families plan for and deal with the issues of Aging.

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