Probate is the process of verifying whether a will is authentic and valid. The process is supervised by a court. If a person passes away without a will, probate may still be required by law to pay their final bills and distribute their estate.
Probate is only necessary for properties (such as real estate or a car titled in the person’s name) that were owned solely in the name of the deceased or properties that were owned as tenants in common.
If there are assets in a property that should go through probate, it is the responsibility of the executor to file a case in probate court. If the estate owner did not name an executor, the probate court would appoint one. The executor can hire an attorney to help with the court proceedings. They can use the estate to pay the professional’s fee.
One question we hear frequently at our law firm in Sonoma County is: do all assets need to be listed for probate? The answer is no. We have compiled a list of assets that are not subject to probate.
Assets Exempt From Probate
- Vehicles and household goods that go to immediate family members under local state law
- Proceeds from life insurance policies (unless the estate is the designated beneficiary)
- Retirement accounts such as 401(k) s or IRAs for which a beneficiary was named
- Securities and U.S. savings bonds registered in transfer-on-death form and payable-on-death form
- Funds in a payable-on-death (or POD) bank account
- Jointly held real estate
- Pension plan distributions
- U.S. savings bonds held jointly
- Assets held in a living trust
- Wages, salaries, or commission due to the estate owner
Many states offer what they call summary probate for smaller estates. This is a simpler process. The executor of an estate can use the process if the value of the property subject to probate is below a certain amount (usually between a few thousand dollars to $200,000). The state of California allows an executor to use this process if the estate has a value of up to $166,250.
The executor must give written consent to use this process. The request to use this process must include the following information:
- The county where the estate owner lived before death
- The executor’s name
- The name, age, and address of the beneficiaries and their relationship with the estate owner
- The value of the asset in question
- The county’s name (where the property is located)
Johnston Thomas Law is a reputable law firm in Sonoma County. Our experienced attorneys create customized legal solutions that best fit your needs. To consult one of our attorneys, call (707) 545-6542.