When an estate must go through the probate court, the process can be long and expensive, sometimes taking years to resolve. The longer the process takes, the more it costs, and the heirs are left with less of the estate in the long run. To avoid these problems, most individuals and probate attorneys do what they can to avoid the probate process altogether.
What Is Probate?
Even if you have wills and trusts set up by a qualified attorney, your estate may have to go through the probate process before the assets get to the heirs. The legal process through which the estate goes is known as probate court. During this time, any creditors are paid off and designated beneficiaries and heirs are identified. Wills and trusts can be contested after a person dies and the probate process is often used to settle any problems before the estate is distributed.
During probate, the executor or administrator is identified, the will is proven to be valid in court and the property is inventoried after being identified. Property is appraised, taxes and debts are paid and whatever is left is distributed according to the will.
How to Avoid Probate
Because the process can be long and expensive, your attorney may help you with ways to completely avoid probate court. The top three ways to avoid probate are:
- Hold your property jointly with someone you trust. For example, if you plan to buy a home, own the property with your spouse or significant other. This means that when you pass, the property will go directly to the other owner rather than going through probate. Make sure the ownership is designated clearly with the help of a qualified probate attorney.
- Specifically name beneficiaries of bank and retirement accounts. Many individuals don’t realize that when they open a bank account, they are able to designate a beneficiary immediately. This is true with life insurance policies, retirement accounts, pension plans, stocks and bonds, IRA accounts and 401K plans.
- Hire an attorney to create a living trust. This is perhaps the easiest way to avoid probate. A living trust is similar to a last will and places your property and assets into a trust that is managed by a trustee. As the assets and property are already distributed to the trust, you can avoid probate.
The terms and legal complications associated with avoiding probate court can be a lot for the average American to take in. Fortunately, there are experienced probate attorneys just waiting to help. Contact us at Horn & Johnsen today to schedule a consultation with an attorney to help you start your estate plan.