When someone passes away, questions arise about how to handle the estate’s affairs. Sometimes, probate becomes necessary, and other times, it does not. Opening an estate in California may be unavoidable when attempting to distribute certain assets. Even when some assets pass outside of probate, the process may be necessary for other items in the estate.
When probate becomes necessary
When an asset has no joint owner, or an account has neither a joint owner nor a beneficiary, then probate serves as the process to transfer ownership. If someone dies and is the sole owner of a house, the probate court relies on the directives in a will to transfer ownership. When someone dies without a will, California’s intestate laws guide the transfer.
Now, if the deceased homeowner named a beneficiary on a brokerage account, the brokerage accounts transfer to the new owner outside of probate. Transfer-on-death designations provide a way to avoid probate, and so may a trust.
Probate involves more than distributing assets
While asset distribution remains an essential aspect of probate, this legal process involves other responsibilities. The decedent may have debts, and probate works to settle those debts before any assets are distributed. The decedent’s taxes may require filing, and filing returns becomes another possible requirement during probate.
During probate, someone is named the “executor of the estate.” Hopefully, the will already designated the right person for the job for all the estate administration and probate tasks. The executor represents the estate and handles many functions on the deceased’s behalf. For example, the executor may shut off utilities, access storage units and safe deposit boxes, and more. Some entities may not deal with someone without proof that he or she acts as the formal, court-authorized executor.
An attorney could address questions related to estate planning. He or she may advise clients about how to avoid probate or make it easier for their heirs.