Probate Court Records Are Public Records

Published: 28th November 2016
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Copyright (c) 2014 Mark Shapiro

Some people think that if they've got their will, when they die, their assets will automatically and instantly go to their kids (or their spouse, or... ) as is in their will. It's not so simple or quick.

One of many judgment-related: I'm a Judgment referral expert, not an attorney, and this article is my opinion based on my experience, please hire a lawyer when you need legal advice.

After somebody passes on, without or with a written will, their belongings must usually go through probate first, prior to getting passed on to the person(s) listed in their will. Think of probate as proving to the court, the ownership status of a dead person's possessions.

Just because Dad's will states that Cindy gets the Jaguar and Frank gets the house, doesn't mean that when Dad passes away, Cindy and Frank get them immediately, or other assets listed inside of Dad's written will.

First, it must get proven in probate court that the Dad really owned the Jaguar and the house, free and clear. The actual checking of ownerships is performed by an Executor (as named in the will) or the Administrator (as appointed by the court when there is no written will).

The executor or the administrator, files proof with the court listings the full legal titles, and also whether or not all of the loans and/or liens are clear on all the listed possessions. After it is proven to the court that the Dad was the only owner of the possessions mentioned in his will, then the court looks at the will for the dispersement instructions.

If an estate is small, there's not any requirement for probating a deceased's estate. The estate size limit in dollars, varies over time and is different in each state. Within California, the limit is now $150K. When an deceased's estate is less than the state limit, then the parties may bypass probate court.

All probate records in court are public records. Anyone may go into a state court and see the probate records. You can look at celebrity records or anyone else and see who got what.

To bypass the public disclosure possibilities and expenses of a probate court adventure, many people with lots of assets set up a revocable living trust; and transfer most of whatever they have to their trust.

If you are looking at a deed to a property at a recorder's building and the deed reads Sally Rogers and Jack Rogers owned the property as a wife and husband, however the couple transferred the title to Sally Rogers and Jack Rogers; Trustees of the Rogers Clan Trust dated June 6, 2011, you'll know they have some kind of trust. Most likely it will be a revocable living trust. Revocable trusts may be changed at any time.

Properly set-up trusts most often bypass probate courts because they have previously proven title to the estate's assets. Trusts can keep an estate out of the public records, a possibly important privacy feature.

Folks having assets in the name of their trusts may also have a will, to put anything they may have previously forgotten to put into the trusts. Revocable living trusts are not a separate legal entity apart from the trustees, because individual(s) are the owners of every property within the trust. That means assets in such trusts are not protected from judgment creditors.

Trusts and probate are complicated topics, and this article is a summary of the way things usually work. As you would expect, there are many exceptions, lots of red tape, and legalese too. When recovering a money judgment, the probate court and divorce records contain a lot of good information.


Mark Shapiro - Judgment Referral Expert - - the place Judgments go and are quickly Collected!

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