You can avoid probate by gifting your property to your loved ones while you are alive. This removes the property from your probate estate and transfers it to the people you want to have it. Gifts may be subject to gift taxes and they will be counted toward your available exemption amount for estate tax purposes.
Another way to avoid probate is to title your property in such a way that it will not be part of your probate estate. You can own property as joint tenants with the right of survivorship, where the property will automatically pass to the surviving joint tenant. Property that can be transferred at death to named beneficiaries is another option to avoid probate. Examples include “payable on death” accounts and revocable payable on death deeds. The examples above are most easily accomplished when you want the property to go to a small number of competent adults.
However, if you want to avoid probate but also have the property be shared among several people, or you want to condition receipt of property on an event such as reaching a certain age, or achieving a certain level of schooling, you will want to seriously consider a revocable living trust. When the trust creators die, the trustee can easily and quickly transfer the trust property to the people who are supposed to receive it, or hold that property in trust for their benefit and in the way specified in the trust.
Lastly, California provides special procedures for “small estates”, or estates whose value falls below specific thresholds, that are shortcuts through probate, including the use of affidavits to transfer property, and special petitions that can be used instead of a full-blown probate petition.
If you would like to discuss your estate planning or probate or trust administration questions with an experienced California estate planning attorney, or have questions that weren’t answered here, we invite you to contact JDS Law, Inc. to schedule a consultation.