If you’re like many people, the idea of probate can be confusing and uncertain.
Simply asking, “What is probate?” is a good place to start, and this guide will help answer that for you. Understanding this process can help you find ways to improve your planning and protect your assets.
An estate planning attorney is a great resource to help guide you through the probate process. Proper planning can make probate less intrusive for your heirs or even eliminate the court’s involvement.
Here are five things to consider.
Probate is a legal process that puts the court in charge of distributing your estate after you die. As with most formal procedures, it’s perhaps more complicated than it should be.
When you execute a will, it helps simplify the overall process of probate, but the court remains actively involved:
You may have many reasons to address probate now instead of later. If you don’t establish an alternate plan, you ultimately give the courts control over the assets you accumulated over a lifetime. Even if you have a will, the process inconveniences your heirs and forces them to wait until the court signs off on distribution.
Here are a few additional reasons why you should take steps to avoid probate:
The fees your heirs pay are significant enough to reduce your estate’s worth.
Costs often include:
You might never imagine that you have assets substantial enough to consider them an “estate” worthy of protection. Your estate is everything you own or have a financial interest in when you die. For most people, that doesn’t usually include a multimillion-dollar company or billions in assets. Still, the property accumulated over a lifetime is often worth more than you assume.
Estates often include real property such as your home or income-producing properties. You may have bank accounts, investments, cars, jewelry, art, collectibles, and family heirlooms. Many of these items increase in value over time. Through the estate planning process, you document all the assets and plan ways to pass along as much as possible to your heirs.
You hope to live a long life, but death is rarely predictable. That’s why it’s always important to have a flexible plan in place. It’s essential to protect and preserve your assets for your heirs.
Estate planning professionals help you establish a strategy and implement options that meet your needs.
A living trust is a formal arrangement that places your assets in a trust. Your trust document contains instructions for asset distribution and other directives.
A trust allows you to relinquish power over your assets while you’re still living. You appoint a trustee with decision-making authority. The trustee assumes control based on your parameters: death, mental illness, incapacity, etc.
You can set up your trust as irrevocable. This means you can’t change your mind once you implement the arrangement. If you prefer to have an arrangement that you can modify your trust, you can set it up as a revocable trust.
When you give your assets as a gift while you’re still living, you can bypass the probate process. You can pass on gifts to charities or family members without executing a living will or a trust. You must comply with IRS guidelines and file IRS Form 709 when required.
When your property is titled jointly with a spouse or partner, the property doesn’t become part of your estate. A joint owner has survivorship rights. Upon your death, your house, vehicle, or other titled property transfers to the joint title-holder.
The title must reflect the appropriate ownership:
When your bank account has a payable on death (POD) or transferable on death (TOD) provision, you can designate a beneficiary. These provisions function similarly to life insurance policies. Upon your death, your bank pays the funds directly to your beneficiary.
You can eliminate future probate complications with focused planning. An estate planning attorney can walk you through the options for managing your estate now, along with probate laws. As your situation or lifestyle changes, you can revisit and update your plans.
Additionally, if you are an executor of an estate and you need assistance with handling the decedent’s estate and the probate proceeding, we can help.
Contact us today to start planning for your future.