Estate Planning: Steps You can Take to Keep Your Estate from Going to Probate Court

Did you know that even with a proper, legal will and testament your wishes set up through the estate planning process may not go exactly as planned? Believe it or not, there is an “approval process” of sorts for wills. This is done in what they call a probate court. This court looks at things that may be brought into question in a will––sometimes they do not honor parts of it, but for the most part it just takes an extremely long time to resolve the will. Families and loved ones can get contentious, and those closest to you can’t return to life as usual.

Some of this possible unpleasantness can be avoided, and your assets can get where you want them more quickly. Let’s look at a few ways that probate court can be avoided or essentially be bypassed.

  1. Revocable Living Trust – This is a tactic where you take your valuable property and place it in a trust so it does not become part of your estate for a probate hearing. It works because the trustee is the one who actually owns the personal property at the time of death. After death, the trust under guidance of a legal document similar to a will, is then transferred to those it was meant to go to without going through the probate court process. There will still be an estate tax placed on the value of the trust property though.
  2. Pay-on-Death Accounts – You can change the status of your retirement and bank accounts to that of payable on death accounts. You simply do this by adding a beneficiary. When you die the money then goes to them.
  3. Joint Ownership of Property – This is when you add another name on to a title to a home, vehicle, or other property you hold title too. You state on the joint title that upon death the surviving person gets the property.
  4. Gifts – You can simply give something to someone as a gift before you die. If you don’t own something it does not go through probate court. There are some catches here so be sure to ask your lawyer about them.
  5. Small Estate Procedures – Many States are now making available what they call simplified procedures for small estates that avoid going through probate all together also.

Please keep in mind this is a quick summation of what is available out there to help avoid your personal property going through probate court. The process is not always as easy as it sounds. The best thing to do if you’re interested is to sit down with your lawyer and discuss what your options are and how you would go about taking advantage of some of them.

 

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