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Reasons not to obsess over avoiding California probate

California estate planning laws include ways Los Angeles residents can circumvent probate. Some probated estate issues take a long time to resolve and devalue an estate. In many cases, probate functions simply to verify the validity of a will so the last desires of a decedent take place.

Living trusts and property joint tenancy move assets to beneficiaries without probate. Realistically, unless an estate plan is updated each time an asset is accumulated, there is no way every asset can be shifted to a trust prior to death. The straggling asset solution is often an open-ended will, which does go to probate.

Another popular probate avoidance approach involves sharing property ownership with an heir, usually a spouse. Right of survivorship allows a property owner to absorb an asset like a home upon a co-owner's death. Joint tenancy becomes a probate issue when co-owner's deaths don't occur as estate planners anticipated. Problems also surface for individuals who don't want a co-owner to have complete asset control.

Probate fears are reasonable for high-value and complex estates, but not so much for a modest number of assets. California's laws permit estates up to $100,000 to settle without probate.

Creditor protection is one reason trusts are popular, but California protects probated estates from long-term creditor claims. Creditors must file a claim within four months of an executor appointment to receive estate proceeds. A creditor who waits longer is likely to go unpaid.

Estate planners and heirs are sensitive to the time probate issues take to settle. In truth, uncomplicated probate settlements take just a few months. Another advantage of probate is the court's power. Decisions made by a probate court are final, which dispenses with ongoing, estate-shrinking arguments among family members.

Analysts believe making probate avoidance the sole theme of an estate plan is short-sighted. Each client and each estate are as unique as the legal advice that accompany them.

Source:, "6 reasons why probate isn't that bad" Tom Nawrocki, Sep. 13, 2013

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