Assets transfer on death the easy way and the hard way. The hard way requires assistance of the Superior Court of California. Easy transfers require little planning and avoid the court.

Retirement accounts and life insurance policies are the easiest. These assets transfer by designated beneficiary. The company who holds the retirement account or the insurance policy provides a form for you to identity who inherits. You sign and return. It’s that easy.

Bank and investment accounts transfer by adding a co-owner or pay-on-death designee. These assets are more complicated in that each financial institution has its own rules, options and forms.

The easy ways to transfer real property in California is by joint ownership or trust. Joint owners take title as joint tenants. For married couples a form of joint tenancy known as “community property with the right of survivorship” is also available. These forms of owning convey the deceased owner’s interest to the survivor in a fairly efficient and low-cost manner.

The problem with joint owners is what happens on the death of the survivor? A trust is the best way to own real property in California for both single owners and joint owners. A trust costs more than joint owning at the beginning. But during life, the owner maintains control of the real property in a trust. On death the assets are distributed as directed in the trust and the heirs save thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars.

The very perplexing question is how your assets transfer if you do not plan ahead? It may take your heirs many years to answer this question. The California laws of probate administration are complicated, costly and time consuming. The probate process is explained in my post on probate administration.

Author: Mark W. Bidwell