Following the loss of a loved one, family members and close friends may face a long period of grieving. The need to distribute the deceased person’s estate often adds to feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. In most cases, assets must pass through the court in a process known as probate before they reach beneficiaries.

Depending on the size and type of the estate, this often time-consuming and expensive process may take nearly a year or longer to resolve, prolonging a sense of insecurity and loss. However, there are ways that individuals may be able to avoid having estate assets go through probate and simplify the process of inheritance and property transfer.

Establish joint tenancy

Real estate that two or more individuals own as joint tenants does not need to pass through the court system. When one owner dies, the other owners have survivorship rights and automatically inherit the property in their name. Individuals may also be able to establish a transfer-on-death deed for real estate or other property that allows it to pass directly to a beneficiary.

Create a living trust

Some people choose to place property in a revocable or irrevocable living trust instead of using a will to determine inheritance and transfer. With this option, because the trustor has already essentially distributed their assets (to the trust), those assets do not need to go through probate when the trustor dies.

Name beneficiaries for certain assets

Individuals may also name pay-on-death beneficiaries on certain financial assets, including life insurance policies, retirement plans and bank accounts as well as stocks and bonds. Taking the time to fill out payable on death forms for accounts and investments ensures that they will disperse to beneficiaries immediately instead of getting caught up in probate.

Transfer smaller estates

In California, not all estates have to pass through the court. If the deceased person’s estate is worth less than $166,250, beneficiaries may be able to use a simplified transfer process to inherit certain assets like investments or money in bank accounts. However, this simplified process only applies to personal property, not real property like land or a house.