Understanding Wills & Trusts

The process of probate takes place after the death of an individual and can go on for up to a year. No one wants their loved ones to go through this expensive and lengthy process and therefore people are looking for ways to avoid it. By creating a will or setting up a trust, conflict and hassle can be minimized for your family and friends.

You may be wondering what probate entails and why it should be avoided. It is made up of several different steps, the first of which is to prove that the will is valid. This usually is a routine matter, but it can become complicated if the will is contested by a relative or if it was not written correctly. Also, if it can be proven that undue force was exhibited on the writer of the will, the will can be invalidated. Following this is the identification and documentation of the deceased's property. This can be done with the help of an appraiser and is necessary in order to discover an accurate picture of the assets the individual left behind. Taxes, unpaid debt, and inheritances will all come out of this property.

During this probate process, conflict and confusion are not uncommon. A will that is written correctly can greatly decrease the hassle involved in probate. It is the most common way individuals let their families know their wishes whether it be funeral arrangements or who the beneficiaries should be. Although the process of creating a will is not very difficult, many people do not possess a valid will. For whatever reason, they leave their wishes unknown and their family has to guess as to what they would have wanted.

As each state is different, it is highly recommended that you consult with a probate attorney in relation to the stipulations required for your will. One widespread requirement is that the testator (writer of the will) must be in sound mind and must sign and date their will. The will must be signed in the presence of witnesses who must also sign the will. If a will is made correctly, if will remain in use until another will replaces it. Some states also have wills defining who a testator may cut out of their will. Another benefit of creating a will is the ability to leave dependent children in the guardianship of a family member or friend. It also lets the individual define how they will provide financially for the children.

It is important to note what happens to an estate if the owner dies intestate (without a will). The court will first pay any outstanding bills or taxes and then divide the money between relatives. Should this happen, close friends will not receive anything as the court only can recognize relatives.

A trust is an estate-planning tool that can be used instead of a will or as an addition to a will. Although it acts in some ways as a will, a trust varies greatly from a will. The grantor (property owner) transfers ownership of their property to a person or company to hold it for the beneficiary. A testamentary trust involves the transferring of property to a trust fund after the death of the grantor. A living trust, or inter vivos trust, starts while the granter is still alive, but continues until after their death. These trusts can be either revocable or irrevocable depending on the wishes of the grantor.

Wills and trusts are estate-planning tools that can make the process of probate run more smoothly for your family and friends. If done correctly, they can give you peace of mind knowing that your loved ones are taken care of. Talk to a probate attorney to get skilled and knowledgeable legal advice.