When a person dies, he or she typically leaves assets and property behind. The decedent also typically leaves behind family members or other heirs who have a right to receive the assets. Probate is a distribution process through which heirs and beneficiaries receive the property from the decedent’s estate to which they are entitled.
Probate is a fairly standard process after someone passes away. However, there are circumstances in which it is not necessary to go through probate, or the process can be expedited. The following is a discussion of the circumstances that affect the need to go through probate.
Situations in Which Probate Is Required
To clear up a common misconception right away, it is a person’s estate that goes through probate, not a person’s will. In other words, not having a will is not a way to avoid probate. The exception is if there is an alternative estate planning document in place, such as a trust, that would reduce the amount of probate property. Where there is neither a will, a trust, nor any other applicable estate planning document, the probate process still takes place according to the rules of intestate succession.
One way to reduce the amount of probate property is to designate beneficiaries for certain types of accounts, such as an annuity, a retirement account, or a life insurance policy. In the absence of designated beneficiaries, these assets may have to go through probate. However, they may also be subject to probate if the beneficiaries originally designated have already died.
Situations in Which Probate May Be Bypassed or Expedited
Probate can be a long, complicated process and can be frustrating for family members and beneficiaries to go through if the estate is relatively small. State governments understand that probate is more appropriate in some situations than in others. That is why many of them offer an expedited probate process for small estates. However, the definition of a “small estate” varies by jurisdiction. In Hawaii, an estate valued at $100,000 qualifies for expedited probate as a small estate. In Massachusetts, the threshold is significantly lower at $15,000. Those figures refer to the value of the probate property, not the entire estate. Some assets do not qualify for probate. These include accounts with designated beneficiaries, payable-on-death bank accounts, property held in a living trust, or assets owned in joint tenancy.
Because probate can be complicated, it can be helpful to hire a probate lawyer, like a probate lawyer in Sacramento, CA, who is experienced and knowledgeable in such matters.
Thanks to Yee Law Group, PC for their insight into when probate is and is not necessary.