What it means to probate an estate
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(From CALDA, California Association of Legal Document Assistants) What is "probate?"
The word "probate" is the term generally used to describe what happens to a person's property when he or she dies. The primary purpose of a probate proceeding is to make sure all of the decedent's debts are paid and that the remaining property is distributed to the rightful owner(s). In California, different methods are used depending on the fair market value of the assets and how title is held.
One of the first steps in settling an estate is to determine which of the decedent's assets are actually "probate property." Not all property in which the decedent had an interest is necessarily probate property. Some assets can pass to survivors outside a probate proceeding aside from the terms of a will. This typically includes jointly-owned property that transfers by "right of survivorship" to the surviving joint owner(s), life insurance policies and pension plans that pay cash benefits directly to survivors and property held in trust. Separate administrative tasks are required before non-probate property can be re-titled in the name(s) of the new owner(s)
Probate property on the other hand, as opposed to non-probate property, normally includes assets held in the decedent's name alone. Sometimes probate property amounts to relatively little. If the gross value of the probate property does not exceed $150,000, one of California's "summary administration" procedures may be used. These procedures are available in many estates because the $150,000 limitation does not include joint tenancy property (real or personal); property that passes outright to a surviving spouse or a surviving registered domestic partner; life insurance proceeds payable to named beneficiaries; bank trust accounts or pay-on-death accounts; mobile homes; automobiles or property held in a living trust. After a 40-day waiting period any personal property (i.e. assets other than real property) can be transferred to the "successors of the decedent" with a simple affidavit. If real property is involved a two-page printed form petition may be filed with the court to obtain an Order transferring title to the successors. Alternatively, if the gross value of the real property does not exceed $50,000, a simple one-page affidavit may be used after six months. Summary procedures are a boon for estates that qualify. They save time and money and the estates are settled within weeks.
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