Preparing to avoid probate
Thinking about making a will is useless if the actual documentation of one's final wishes never occurs. Dying intestate could result in the California courts having to identify the decedent's heirs and make decisions about how resources will be distributed. Furthermore, the probate process involves fees that are deducted from the estate, which reduces the value for heirs. Similarly, a will that is not legally executed or that is not found could leave asset decisions in the hands of judges.
Even if a will exists, probate is still necessary for validating it in most cases. However, an individual can handle many estate-related matters outside of a will. A living trust is an excellent alternative to a will, allowing for a trustee to manage the distribution of assets to designated heirs without the publicity or delay that the probate process often entails. Some types of assets can be passed on without a will or a trust. For example, the designation of a beneficiary on a life insurance policy establishes the transfer of funds directly from the company to the named party after the insured party has died. Retirement accounts are similarly managed.
Joint assets such as a home may be handled with joint tenancy designations including the right of survivorship. In such a case, the asset would be completely owned by a surviving party after the death of the other individual. It is important to be sure that such matters are clearly understood and documented to ensure that one's intentions are consistent with the actual legal guidelines in question.
It is important to be sure that wills, trusts and other estate documents are legally executed. Issues such as a move to a new state or the death of an heir could constitute a reason to have an attorney review these documents.