What is Probate exactly?
Probate is a court procedure to administer and distribute an estate after death. If you have assets that are not in a Living Trust, or have proper beneficiary designations, these assets will likely be subject to probate court administration after your death. This can be a very expensive and time consuming procedure, especially when you compare probate costs to the must smaller cost of a good estate plan.
Is Probate only an issue if you have a large estate?
In California, probate court is required to transfer assets if your estate includes real property, or non-real property assets exceeding $150,000. Probate does NOT affect assets in a Living Trust, or those with proper beneficiary designations. If you own a home in California, you should use a Living Trust if you care about your heirs.
If you have beneficiaries designated on any assets, be sure to be extremely careful about naming the correct beneficiaries! For example, young or disabled children make poor beneficiaries, but a Living Trust set up for them makes a perfect beneficiary.