Although retaining a California probate attorney for estate settlement isn’t a legal requirement, it is a wise idea. The Golden State has very complicated and rigid probate laws. Most people find it nearly impossible to endure estate settlement proceedings without legal counsel; particularly when heirs contest the Will.
People can also hire a California probate attorney to establish estate planning strategies to ease burdens of the settlement process. Several methods are used to keep assets out of probate court so they can be transferred quickly to heirs and beneficiaries.
Probate lawyers are especially helpful in handling estates of people that pass away without writing a Will. This kind of estate is referred to as ‘intestate’ and is more involved because it has to be settled in accordance with California probate laws.
When a person writes a Will they can bequeath their property to whomever they desire. Wills can also be used to disinherit direct lineage heirs or to provide a no-contest statement prohibiting heirs from contesting the document. Without one, estate assets are given to the surviving spouse and other relatives that are entitled under state law.
Nearly all property can avoid probate through proper estate planning. Titled property, such as motor vehicles and real estate, can be gifted to beneficiaries by setting up a joint title. Funds kept in bank accounts can be transferred by establishing payable on death beneficiaries. Financial investments, retirement accounts, and life insurance proceeds can be gifted using transfer on death beneficiary forms.
Estate planning strategies have to comply with California probate code which consists of eleven divisions. Each division includes chapters and parts which are further categorized into over 21,000 sections. Few people have the legal knowledge to understand the vast amount of information, let alone know if they are in compliance.
Working with probate lawyers is the only way to make certain estates are legally settled. As long as estate planning methods were established prior to the decedent’s death, estate settlement is relatively simple. Lawyers might only be needed to help the estate executor file documents through the court; negotiate with creditors to pay off outstanding debts owed by the decedent; or assist with transferring inheritance property to beneficiaries.
Probate attorneys are especially helpful when family disputes over inheritance arise. Any time a person contests a Will all assets are suspended in probate until the case is resolved. Contesting a Will is particularly harmful to small estates because the estate pays for legal defense fees. If there isn’t enough money to cover costs, a judge can order assets sold which means that no one gets any inheritance.
The state of California exempts estates from probate when the value is less than $100,000. However, estate executors have to engage in estate settlement proceedings before inheritance property can be transferred to heirs.
Common duties include: notifying creditors of the decedent’s death; settling outstanding creditor accounts; acquiring property appraisals for estate and inheritance tax purposes; and filing a final tax return.
People tend to put off writing a Will for a rainy day, but this can be a tragic mistake. Settling an intestate estate in California often results in complications that suspend inheritance property in probate for several months or even years. The caseload in counties such as Orange or Los Angeles is staggering, making the average duration of probate 6 to 9 months.
Estate planning isn’t hard and can usually be completed in a few hours. The only way to safeguard inheritance property and expedite the probate process is to write a Will and engage in methods that keep assets out of the courts. A good source for locating qualified California probate attorneys is the American Bar Association website at ABANet.org.