Probate: 3 Easy Ways to Avoid it

Probate is the court process used to determine who gets an inheritance. In the eyes of a financial planner, it is a court process that most clients should try to avoid for many reasons. The probate process is time-consuming, usually lasting about a year depending on how backed up the courts are. The expense for probate is very high, which includes thousands of dollars going towards attorney and court fees. Probate is also a public court event in which potential heirs can object to the ruling pretty easily, causing privacy concerns and more attorney costs. While probate can have its time and place, there are some simple ways to avoid probate. 

Let’s take a look at three easy steps you can take now to keep your loved ones from having to deal with probate.

  1. Primary Beneficiary Designations – If a 401(k) account or life insurance policy lists a primary beneficiary, the account avoids probate and passes directly to the listed beneficiary. For brokerage accounts this is usually referred to as a Transfer-On-Death (TOD) account, and for bank accounts this is referred to as a Payable-On-Death account.
  1. Contingent Beneficiary Designations – Setting a contingent beneficiary is also an easy way to help avoid probate. The contingent beneficiary is the person(s) next in line to inherit if the primary beneficiary has already passed away at the time of the account holder’s passing. 
  1. Retitle Your Automobile & House – Don’t forget about your car and home! If your vehicle or house are listed in your name alone, they would turn into probate assets at the time of your passing. Some states have introduced TOD car and house titling as a way to avoid needing probate if the owner passes away. Also, you and your spouse should consider owning the car and house jointly with rights of survivorship, as another way to avoid probate.

These planning points provided today are just some of the easy actions you can do yourself.  There are more ways to avoid probate, but they get a little more complex and depend on your personal situation. 

With legal matters like this, it is always a good idea to start working with an estate planning attorney, as well as with a financial advisor. Work with a Warren Street Wealth Advisor today to get your personalized financial plan and more guidance on estate planning.

Bryan Cassick, MBA, CFP®

Wealth Advisor, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.

Major Risks to Family Wealth

major risks to family wealthWill your accumulated assets be threatened by them?

Provided by: Warren Street Wealth Advisors


All too often, family wealth fails to last. One generation builds a business – or even a fortune – and it is lost in ensuing decades. Why does it happen, again and again?


It is because families fall prey to serious money blunders – old and new. Classic mistakes are made, and changing times aren’t recognized.


Procrastination. This isn’t simply a matter of failing to plan, but also of failing to respond to acknowledged financial weaknesses.


For example, let’s say we have a multimillionaire named Alan. The named beneficiary of Alan’s six-figure savings account is no longer alive. While Alan knows about this financial flaw, knowledge is one thing and action is another. He realizes he should name another beneficiary, but he never gets around to it. His schedule is busy, and it is an inconvenience.


Sadly, procrastination wins out in the end and as the account lacks a POD beneficiary, those assets end up subject to probate. Then his heirs find out about other lingering financial matters that should have been taken care of regarding his IRA … his real estate holdings … and more.1


Minimal or absent estate planning. Every year, multimillionaires die without any leaving any instructions for the distribution of their wealth – not just rock stars and actors, but also small business owners and entrepreneurs. A 2015 survey found that only 56% of American parents have a will or living trust.2


A will may not be enough. Anyone reliant on a will alone risks handing the destiny of their wealth over to a probate judge. The multimillionaire who has a child with special needs, a family history of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, or a former spouse or estranged children may need more rigorous estate planning. The same is true if he or she wants to endow charities or give grandkids a nice start in life. Is this person a business owner? That factor alone calls for coordinated estate and succession planning.


A finely crafted estate plan has the potential to perpetuate and enhance family wealth for decades, perhaps generations. Without it, heirs may have to deal with probate and a painful opportunity cost – the lost potential for tax-advantaged growth and compounding of those assets.


The lack of a “family office.” Decades ago, the wealthiest American households included offices: a staff of handpicked financial professionals worked within the mansion, supervising a family’s entire financial life. While the traditional “family office” has disappeared, the concept is as relevant as ever. Today, select wealth management firms emulate this model: in an ongoing relationship distinguished by personal and responsive service, they consult families about investments, provide reports and assist in decision-making. If your financial picture has become too complex to address on your own, this could be a wise choice for your family.


Technological flaws. Hackers can hijack email accounts and send phony messages to banks, brokerages and financial advisors greenlighting asset transfers. Social media can help you build your business, but it can also lend personal information to identity thieves who want access to digital and tangible assets.


Sometimes a business or family installs a security system that proves problematic – so much so that it is turned off half the time. Unscrupulous people have ways of learning about that. Maybe they are only one or two degrees separated from you.


No long-term strategy in place. When a family wants to sustain wealth for decades to come, heirs have to understand the how and why. All family members have to be on the same page, or at least read that page. If family communication about wealth tends to be more opaque than transparent, the mechanics and purpose of the strategy may never be adequately conveyed.


No decision-making process. In the typical high net worth family, financial decision-making is vertical and top-down. Parents or grandparents may make a decision in private, and it may be years before heirs learn about it or fully understand it. When heirs do become decision makers, it is usually upon the death of the elders.


Horizontal decision-making can help multiple generations understand and participate in the guidance of family wealth. Estate and succession planning professionals can help a family make these decisions with an awareness of different communication styles. In-depth conversations are essential; good estate planners recognize that silence does not necessarily mean agreement.


You may plan to reduce these risks (and others) in collaboration with financial and legal professionals who focus on estate planning and wealth transfer. It is never too early to begin.


Warren Street Wealth Advisors

190 S. Glassell St., Suite 209

Orange, CA 92866

714-876-6200 – office


This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.



1 – [5/5/15]

2 – [4/22/15]