What is Probate?



Probate is the legal proceeding in which a court determines how an estate will be divided. The court will follow your Last Will and Testament in distributing your property, unless it is contested by your heirs.



Probate can be very expensive if you do not plan correctly. For instance, if you do not have a will, the court will need to appoint an administrator. This can take a long time and cost a great deal of money. Probate fees can average close to 10% of the Fair Market Value of your entire estate (after court fees, attorney’s fees, executor’s fees, appraisal fees, etc.



Probate Cases



In a probate case, a Judge supervises the administration and distribution of your estate – your family cannot even use your funds to pay your burial costs without the Judge’s permission!



Probate takes an average of 9 months to 2 years (before what’s leftover can be distributed to your heirs or according to your will).



Probate documents are public record and your assets and debts become “open to the public.”



Avoiding Probate Cases



To avoid probate, other estate-planning devices should be used. Joint tenancies, pay-on-death accounts and living trusts are some of the most common estate planning methods.



Some people think having a will avoids probate. This is not the case. A will is used in probate to determine who receives what property, who is appointed guardian to any minor children and who will be responsible for carrying out the wishes contained in the will.



If an estate includes real estate or minor children, a formal probate action in court is generally required. However, if the value of the estate does not exceed $166,250, and there is no real property, probate is not mandatory in California.