Weekly Update – Probate

Many of our clients come to us with concerns about probate.  They are extremely fearful of their assets being subject to probate.  This article is going to give a brief overview of the probate process and some simple steps to help make it easier for your heirs.

First of all, what is probate?  Probate is a legal process that happens after someone dies. When someone dies, they usually leave behind possessions or assets like money, a house, or other personal belongings. Probate is a way to make sure that these possessions are distributed fairly to the right people, according to the wishes of the person who died.

During probate, a court will review the person’s will (if they have one) and make sure that it’s followed correctly. They’ll also make sure that any debts or taxes owed by the person who died are paid off before anything is distributed to their loved ones.

Probate helps to ensure that a person’s last will and testament is honored. In fact, as will is one of your tickets to probate

If, however, you die without a will the probate court will, based on the law, determine how to distribute your assets. One word of caution, if you have grandchildren it is critically important that your children have a will.  If your children die without a legal guardian named in a will or other format, the Probate court will determine who gets your grandchildren.  Unfortunately, many young families do not think that they need a will.

What are some basic ways to avoid probate?

  1. Joint ownership and titling of assets.  If you are married, make sure that you and your spouse are named as joint with right to survivorship on assets that may not have a named beneficiary.  This could include bank account, your home, car, or other titled personal property.
  2. Name a beneficiary on assets that will allow for a beneficiary, such as IRA’s, life insurance, annuities, and the like.
  3. Name a payable on death (POD) or a transfer on death (TOD) on accounts that allow for it.  Such as brokerage accounts, bank accounts, and non-IRA investments.
  4. In some states you can name a beneficiary of a car on the registration.  Look to see if your registration allows for that (usually it is on the back of the registration).
  5. Give it away now. There are some items, generally personal heirlooms, that you want certain family members or people to have. Why wait, see the joy of giving while you are alive.
  6. Some assets will require more advanced planning, such as real-estate, and will require a trust to ensure that probate is avoided.  An estate planning attorney can help you with these assets.

In summary, there are some simple things you can do to help ensure that the money and assets you have spent a lifetime accumulating go to the people you want them to go to. This is by making sure you title the assets correctly, name a beneficiary, a TOD, or POD, and make a will.