We often encounter clients that are afraid of probate. This can be for good reason: sometimes a probate process is filled with stress and infighting, or court troubles over access to an asset. But it isn’t always like that. And if there is a chance that it could get that way for you, it is easy to avoid.
The word “probate” refers the court system that handles the administration of the estates of deceased persons to ensure the deceased individual’s assets are transferred to the rightful heirs. (When we say “estate,” we mean any and all assets belonging to the deceased after death, whether it is just 1 bank account and some clothes, or a complicated estate worth millions.) Probate Court handles other matters such as guardianships and juvenile issues, but most commonly it is know for the administration of the estates of deceased individuals. Most counties have their own probate courts, but smaller counties may share probate courts.
The probate process will be guided either by your Last Will and Testament, or if you don’t have a Will, by the State’s rules for who inherits what. In other words, unlike what some people believe, a Will does not avoid probate. The probate process will be short and simple if the deceased has very few assests at death. But if there is real estate and other assets worth more than $22,000 or so, a full probate will be necessary, including several steps that take 5 or more months, and several thousand dollars in attorneys fees.
Probate involves notifying potential heirs that there are assets. In a fractious or troubled family, that can be an invitation to a fight. But most often, the probate process goes smoothly, if slowly.
The glib answer to this question is to not own anything at your death. But by structuring ownership creatively, you can essentially “not own anything” upon your death. This can be accomplished in several ways.
In this digital age there are many providers eager to help you, including do it yourself products. If you are experienced in tax and real estate issues, you might be ok using those products. Or you can seek the help of an expert to help you create an estate plan that suits the needs of those you will leave behind.