There are three basic ways that you can own property: in your individual name, in joint names with others, and through contract rights. Whether or not a particular asset that you own at the time of your death will need to be probated will depend entirely upon how it's titled.
If you own an asset in your sole name, without any other joint owners with rights of survivorship or a pay on death designation (such as a POD, TOD, ITF or Totten trust account), then the asset will need to be probated after you die. This is because once you die, no one will have the legal authority to access your account - only you had the legal authority, but now you're gone.
Tenancy in Common
Even you own an asset jointly with other owners as a tenant in common, if your tenant in common interest is titled in your sole name, then your interest will need to be probated.
How is Your Individual Property Accessed After You Die?
Through the probate process, a person or institution will be appointed by the probate judge to act as your Personal Representative or Executor. The probate judge will issue Letters of Administration, also called Letters Testamentary in some jurisdictions, which give the Personal Representative/Executor the legal authority to access property held in your individual name or as a tenant in common. Keep in mind that the actual timing of the appointment of a Personal Representative or Executor will vary from state to state and could range any where from a few days to over a month or more.
What Will Happen to Your Individual Property During Probate?
If you've taken the time to make a Last Will and Testament, then the probate of your individual property will be controlled by the terms of your Last Will.
If you haven't taken the time to make a Last Will and Testament, then the probate of your individual property will be controlled by the intestacy laws of your state and any other state where you own real estate or tangible personal property: What Happens Without a Will?
Using a Revocable Living Trust to Avoid Probate
If you want your family to have immediate access to your bank account and other property without the interference of a probate court but you're leary about adding joint owners with rights of survivorship, consider setting up a Revocable Living Trust. This is the best of both worlds - your assets will remain yours and yours alone while you're alive, including property that you own as a tenant in common that's funded into your trust, but after you die your successor Trustee will be able to gain virtually immediate access to your bank account and other individual assets as well as tenant in common property by simply showing a death certificate.