Probate is the legal term for the process of changing title and paying death taxes. This usually involves a court proceeding. Court proceedings are generally thought of as undesirable because of several reasons. First, they are public. The property of the decedent is a public record. Second, it is lengthy. Court probate proceedings take about a year or longer depending on the size and complexity of the estate. (An estate is the total assets of a deceased person)

Also probate proceedings are expensive. They cost roughly between 2 to 4% of the gross value of an estate. For example, an estate of $500,000 might have probate expenses of $10,000 to $20,000 or more.

Why do I have to have a probate? With the exception of joint tenancy property from the decedent to the person receiving the property is through the probate court. This is true for real estate, bank accounts, stocks, automobiles, and other assets.

In California, however, there is a special law that allows the transfer of personal property, including bank accounts, of $150,000 or less to the heirs without having to go through probate.

It goes without saying that this cumbersome and expensive probate procedure should be and can be avoided by proper estate planning.