Stephen Cockriel Feb. 24, 2016

It may be easy to assume that a carefully worded will can ensure that one's final wishes will be carried out with regard to property and other assets located in California. However, the probate process can be costly and take an extensive amount of time, delaying access to an inheritance for a testator's heirs. Legal challenges could be made if an heir is left out. Debt collection could also affect the distribution of one's assets. However, there are several steps that can be taken to minimize such risks.

During the estate planning process, it may be helpful to identify assets that can completely bypass being included in a will or trust. For example, many retirement accounts and insurance policies require a beneficiary designation. Details for a primary beneficiary can be made along with a provision for a secondary beneficiary in case the main designee has passed away. It is important to revisit these designations periodically to incorporate any important changes needed because of a divorce, new marriage, or other change in relationships.

Joint ownership is another option for keeping certain properties or accounts out of probate. This may be useful for ensuring that one's home is left in the charge of a spouse or other family member. Joint ownership is also an excellent tool for passing a bank account on to another party. In some states, including California, community property laws provide for joint assets to be passed on to a spouse.

Estate planning solutions such as living trusts can also be used to minimize probate risks. People who are not familiar with the requirements of the law related to probate and proper execution of a will might want to discuss their concerns with an estate planning lawyer, who might present a variety of avenues for the protection of assets.