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How can I keep my estate from going through probate?

Probate might be an understandably important aspect of estate law, but it is not a necessarily fun process to go through. However, not every California estate will have to pass through probate, and the reasons why can vary. Residents who want to avoid having their estate probated can take certain preventive measures before their death.

If an asset is owned by more than one individual, such as in the case of a married couple, then there is no need for it to go through probate. Instead, the ownership of a jointly-owned asset will automatically default to the other surviving individual. While marriage is one way of creating community property, joint tenacy -- the joint ownership of a property -- can be established with another individual. This can be helpful for widowed or unmarried individuals.

For those not interested in creating a joint asset, pay-on-death accounts are another solid option for keeping certain assets out of probate. Once an account, vehicle title or other asset has been converted to pay-on-death, a beneficiary must be named. Upon the owner's death, the money or asset in the account will be transferred directly to the beneficiary without the need for probate.

The size of an estate is also a factor for probate. Barring extenuating circumstances, California estates valued at less than $150,000 are exempt from the process. While all of these techniques can be helpful for avoiding unnecessary probate, there are instances where it can be helpful and necessary. Before making any decisions about whether to try to circumvent the process after death, estate holders should first take careful inventory of their assets and personal wishes.

Source: nerdwallet.com, "5 Smart Estate-Planning Steps to Avoid Probate", James E. Salter, Feb. 10, 2016

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