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Avoiding Probate in California

Depending on the size of an estate, probate proceedings in California can be costly and time consuming. However, there are a number of ways individuals and families can avoid probate. At Biddle Law, we devise innovative estate planning strategies to help clients protect their assets as well as their loved ones.

Probate Lawyer in San Mateo County

There are a variety of legal mechanisms that can be utilized to transfer assets outside of an estate and therefore avoid probate, including:

  • Living Trust - this estate planning tool takes ownership of assets such as real estate, bank accounts and vehicles while allowing you to continue managing the property as the trustee during your lifetime. However, it is crucial to ensure that all of your assets are properly transferred into the trust by creating a pour-over will. The trust document names a successor trustee is named who is responsible for transferring the property to the beneficiaries after your death. Because the trust is the actual owner of the assets, probate is not required.

  • Joint Ownership - Because California is a community property state, spouses who hold title to real property as "community property with right of survivorship" will also avoid probate because the property automatically passes to the survivor when the other spouse dies. In addition, property owned in a joint tenancy passes to surviving owners when one owner dies, provided that each joint tenant owns an equal share.

  • Real Property Transfer on Death Deed - as of January 1, 2016, real property can be transferred through a revocable transfer-on-death (TOD) deed and avoid probate, however, strict statutory rules and requirements apply. This option will be available until January 1, 2012, at which time the California legislature may or may not extend the law that created TOD deeds.

  • Payable on Death Accounts - a "payable on death" (POD) designation can be added to bank accounts such as savings accounts, checking accounts and certificates of deposit. The payee inherits any money in these accounts after the owner's death without going through probate.

  • Transfer-on-Death Securities Registration - stocks, bonds, and brokerage accounts are typically held in transfer-on-death (TOD) form that pass to the beneficiary outside of probate. The beneficiary only needs to provide the brokerage firm with a death certificate and identification in order to have the accounts transferred into his or her name.

  • Multi-Party Accounts - upon the death of one individual listed on an account, the funds are owned by the remaining individuals, and the decedent's share passes by the terms of the contract (i.e., signature card) or if not specified by contract, then by operation of law. Transfer of title occurs when the financial institution is provided with a death certificate and opens a new account in the name of the survivors.

  • Transfer-on-death registration for vehicles - the law also allows for transfer-on-death registration of vehicles so that the beneficiary automatically inherits the vehicle after the owner's death without going through a probate proceeding.

There are many reasons to avoid probate, such as administrative expenses, legal fees and the delays often associated with the process. In addition, these court proceedings and filings can be reviewed by the public, so utilizing these mechanisms can also help protect your privacy. If you have questions about how to avoid probate in California, call the Biddle Law firm today.


Biddle Law is located in San Mateo and Belmont and services San Mateo County including San Carlos, Burlingame and Foster City.



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1900 South Norfolk Street, Suite 350, San Mateo, CA 94403
| Phone: 650.560.7655
1027 1/2 Alameda de las Pulgas, Belmont, CA 94002
| Phone: 650.727.6276

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