Avoiding Probate: Being Proactive in Estate Planning

Probate is a legal process that immediately begins upon the death of a family member or loved one. It is the process in which the property and assets are divided among the government, creditors and the beneficiaries. The main concern for many people is the timeline that is associated with this process. Depending on the circumstances of the death (for example, if the deceased did not have a valid will upon the time of his or her death), the process can go more than just months. In some famous cases, probate has actually spread over decades; some were just never able to be resolved.

So is there a way in which probate can be avoided? Actually, there is! By being proactive and looking into the options of estate planning, you can ensure that your beneficiaries do not have to struggle with the complications associated with probate. There are several different ways that you can help to avoid the complications of probate – saving your loved ones money, time and emotional distress.

The number one tip to avoid probate is to look into estate planning as a probate-avoidance plan at a young age. While this is a good preliminary step, it is important to remember that just because you have looked at it once does not mean that you are done with it for life. As you age, your circumstances will change and it is important that you regularly update your plan to reflect your current situation. With that in mind, there are several options that should be considered during estate planning, including:

  1. Clearly name your beneficiaries. While looking into your estate planning, make sure that you not only name the spouses, children and loved ones that you want to benefit from your will, but clearly define what they will receive. Will they be tired to your retirement account? Will you passing them real estate property? Will they inherit a car? Clearly label and name. Set up transfer-on-death and payable-on-death accounts.
  2. Look into the possibility of a living trust. Simply speaking, a trust is created so that one person becomes a trustee who is designated to look after the property of the creator. They do not own the property; instead, it is the responsibility of the trustee to ensure that the property is handled for the benefit of the beneficiaries named in the trust. When a living trust is created, the transfer of the property occurs while the creator of the trust is still alive. This helps to avoid probate because when the creator dies, the property will not technically be in their name.
  3. Consider a joint tenancy. While living, you can establish what is known as a joint tenancy so that ownership of all of your property and assets is not solely in your name – instead the title of the property will also have the name of another owner. Should this be effectively established, upon the event of death, all of the property will simply transfer fully into the name of the surviving owner. This is often an excellent option for married couples who have considerable assets.

Regardless of whether these options or another estate planning solution is best suited for you, it is highly encouraged that you do not hesitate to be proactive. While these actions will not directly impact or benefit you, they will be invaluable to your loved ones. Probate can be a messy and emotionally-charged process. By getting an experienced estate planning attorney on your side and by pursuing these different options, you will be able to create a plan to take care of those whom you love.