What are the alternatives to probate?

There are many alternatives to going through probate.

If the only property in the estate is so encumbered by liens or debts that there will be nothing left once it’s sold, then it may be best to let the foreclosure process take care of it.

If the property has enough value to make it worth pursuing, then available probate alternatives will vary based on a number of factors, including the type of property (real estate or personal property) and its value, who else is on title, and who stands to inherit the property.

If the value of property in the probate estate is less than the statutory threshold ($166,250 in 2021), and at least 40 days have passed since the date of death, then personal property such as bank accounts and stocks can be transferred to the next of kin by using a notarized affidavit signed under penalty of perjury, with required supporting documentation attached.  This procedure cannot be used to transfer real property, but there may be other simplified procedures available through the probate petition process.

If an asset has a beneficiary named to receive it, that asset will not be part of a probate.  Assets that pass by beneficiary designation include life insurance, retirement accounts, pensions, or annuities, payable-on-death or transfer-on-death accounts or deeds, and property in a living trust.

If an asset was titled in the name of more than one person, the type of title ownership might remove the property from the probate estate.  For example, property with title held in joint tenancy or community property with right of survivorship, as well as joint account holders will receive the property without probate.

If survivors include a spouse, registered domestic partner, or minor children, there may be simplified procedures available to transfer the property.  Survivor benefits, such as Social Security or veterans’ benefits, do not require probate.

If you need help determining whether a given probate alternative is available may be difficult, contact experienced probate counsel for guidance.