Creating an estate plan that truly protects your assets and makes your intentions known regarding the dispersal those assets is often far more complicated than one might expect here in California, especially when it comes to real estate.
Without a properly prepared estate plan and will, your wishes for your estate may not align with a slew of state laws that govern real estate and probate. Considering the relatively low threshold for probate in the Golden State, nearly every property owner must deal with probate one way or another in when executing an estate plan. However, a poorly executed will or plan may simply create larger conflicts for beneficiaries and drain the resources of the estate while the matter gets resolved.
If you have real estate holdings in California and wish to avoid or minimize probate, it is crucial that you understand some of the nuances of the applicable laws. An experienced probate and estate planning attorney is a strong resource to help ensure that you understand these issues in detail and have the tools you need to make your wishes clear. Even more importantly, this guidance can ensure that your estate plan is not unnecessarily vulnerable to legal challenges.
Willing property to a trust
One of the most common ways to circumvent probate is by placing property into a trust. However, in California, it is not sufficient to simply list property within a trust in your will. It is also necessary to prepare a deed that transfers the property officially into the ownership of the trust.
If you only list a piece of real property within a trust in your will and do not officially transfer the ownership, you may create massive conflicts between beneficiaries. Without a proper deed transferring the property, it will remain in your ownership no matter what your will dictates.
Unfortunately, addressing this may not be a one-time occurrence. Depending on the length of time that the property remains in the trust, you may need or want to refinance. This often requires returning the legal ownership of the property to your name in order to complete the refinance process and then once again transferring it back to the ownership of the trust, all through creating deeds to facilitate each transfer.
In each of these steps, it is necessary to carefully plan and execute the process, so that there is no ambiguity about your intentions. Unfortunately, the more alterations and transfers a property receives, the greater the likelihood of generating contradictions or omissions in the documentation that may lead to conflicts for your beneficiaries and potential legal challenges to your will once you are gone.
Take your own wishes seriously
Properly expressing and protecting your wishes may take time, but it is well worth it. If you choose to ignore these details, your estate distribution may look nothing like you intended when the time comes. Don't hesitate to use all the tools you have to make these wishes clear and keep your legacy protected.