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Probate Attorneys Serving Southern California

Probate law refers to the processes involved in determining how an estate should be handled after death, including all assets and liabilities. This can be a very stressful, drawn-out process for loved ones in mourning. In fact, in the state of California, probate proceedings often take years. Fortunately, there are ways to help your beneficiaries skip probate altogether. That being said, doing so requires extensive estate planning.

If this isn’t done properly, it may not be valid enough to keep the probate court from getting involved. Sadly, many times assets are not distributed in a way that the benefactor would have planned or preferred, causing strife within the family as well as a much slower process.

This is why it is critical to work with an experienced Palm Springs probate lawyer that can successfully translate your preferences into legally binding, comprehensive documentation, in addition to ensuring said documentation remains readily accessible to your heirs in the event of your passing. Depending on your assets, we can help you create a plan that completely overrides the need for probate or minimizes the amount of your estate that will need to go through the process.

What Does Probate Court Do?

The role of the Palm Springs probate court can be larger than many people understand. Primarily, it is to oversee the various steps involved in the legal process of probate, including dealing with conservatorships, guardianships, wills, and estates.

More specific duties that the probate court is responsible for include the following:

  • Determining whether a will is legitimate

  • Appointing the responsibility of the executor of the estate

  • Determining the identity of the beneficiaries named in the will, if applicable

  • Determining the identity of the heirs, in the absence of a will

  • Verifying how much the estate of the deceased is worth

  • Identifying what resolutions are possible for any outstanding financial obligations

Once all of the above has been dealt with, the Palm Springs probate court will oversee the transfer of assets from the deceased to any heirs and beneficiaries that have been identified during probate. While this is usually done per the instructions left in a will, a legitimate will is not always present. In the absence of a will, the Palm Springs probate court is charged with determining who the inheritors should be. In such a scenario, California’s intestacy succession laws would apply. Generally speaking, these dictate that the assets should be divided amongst the spouse and children. If there are no children, parents or siblings may be included as well. The intestacy succession laws also provide instructions for the amounts that should be allocated to each recipient based on their relationship to the deceased.

What Are the Drawbacks of Probate?

Given all that probate entails, some might consider this to be a useful course of action after death. However, there are several drawbacks involved in probate that can make the process more challenging and ultimately undesirable as a way of distributing your assets after death.

The first drawback to going through probate is the aforementioned length of the proceedings. According to data provided by the California courts, cases can take 18 months to complete, but the truth of the matter is that they often take far longer than that. Many factors can make the situation more challenging, including the size of the estate, the difficulties in identifying the beneficiaries, and any disagreements amongst family members. This means that your loved ones will have to remain involved in complex court proceedings for an extended amount of time, unable to move on with their lives.

Another drawback of probate is that the process comes with high expenses. Going through probate is not free, and probate courts can charge court fees and probate fees for their services. These fees alone usually add up to an average of 8% of the total estate. In addition, family members may also have to cover the fees of their own legal representation.

Probate is a public process, meaning that none of the information disclosed in probate court is considered private. This can make an already difficult situation all the more contentious, as the details regarding the identity of your beneficiaries and what assets they are to receive are made public knowledge.

Finally, the biggest issue with probate is that there are so many requirements involved. It is an extremely bureaucratic process, necessitating ample amounts of paperwork and forms to move ahead with each individual step. This is ultimately one of the main reasons why probate can be such a lengthy experience. The smallest error can cause significant delays, requiring family members to start over.

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What Does a Probate Attorney Do for My Estate Planning?

If you decide you would like to keep your assets from having to go through probate, it is critical that you work with an experienced attorney to do so. Every situation is different, and the solutions that work for one client won’t be applicable to the next. Your attorney can assess the particulars of your estate and help you come up with a tailored plan to ensure the role of probate is kept as minimal as possible.

That being said, there are a few strategies that are often incorporated into estate planning to help avoid the need for probate. These include:

Gifting Preemptively

One possible solution is to simply give the items directly to the desired recipients before you pass away. This can get complicated, considering that there is no way to know for certain when such an event will come to pass, and you are likely using most of your assets in some capacity. However, if there are any items you no longer need to keep with you, or if you find yourself in a situation where your health is much diminished, it may be a good time to start parting with some of your assets. Your attorney can help ensure that the transfer of ownership is lawful and, as such, fully protected against intervention from other individuals.

Adding a Joint Owner

Some assets, such as parcels of property, may allow for joint ownership. This gives you the option to share the asset with the person you wish to have as your recipient until the moment of your passing, after which they become the sole owner. Your attorney can determine which assets are eligible for joint ownership and assist with the paperwork necessary to make the ownership changes official.

Establishing a Trust

In the state of California, trusts can have ownership over all sorts of assets, including property and material goods. Trusts are subject to trust documents that name specific trustees and successor trustees. As such, they can be a convenient tool to facilitate the transfer of ownership after your death. Your lawyer can draft up the trust documents and ensure that the details of the trust match your intentions.

Enable Transfer-On-Death on Your Accounts

Some types of accounts have a transfer-on-death feature, meaning that in the event of your passing, they are automatically transferred to your beneficiaries. Your lawyer can research which accounts have this feature available.

Enable Payable-On-Death on Your Accounts

A similar solution involves a payable-on-death feature, where the asset is liquidated and paid out to your beneficiary in the event of your passing. Your lawyer can research which accounts have this feature available as well.

Why Work with A Palm Springs Probate Lawyer?

Probate law in the state of California is an extremely complex subset of the legal system. As such, if you have any intentions of successfully helping your loved ones avoid having to go through probate as much as possible, it is critical that you work with a skilled attorney with a full understanding of the process. By seeking legal guidance from the Bochnewich Law Offices, you can ensure that your estate planning will successfully reduce any burdens placed on your beneficiaries. We understand how best to apply a variety of solutions and strategies to achieve an ideal result.

Ultimately, our priority is to provide you with the means to control how your assets are handled after your passing. However, you will still have to decide how you want those assets to be distributed. If you’re unsure of which family members you want to inherit each asset, you can always consult with those family members directly. Such conversations can offer clarity to a complex process. Just keep in mind that incorporating family members can sometimes lead to additional complications. It is often best reserved for straightforward feedback on items with lesser emotional or monetary value. If any conflict does arise, you can rely on your attorney to successfully resolve said conflict.

Regardless of how extensively you wish to keep your assets from going through probate, our team can design the perfect estate plan that fully addresses your preferences. In addition, we can answer any questions you might have about the probate process or even just discuss some more general estate planning information. To get started, simply contact the Bochnewich Law Offices via our website, or give us a call.