Provide for your loved ones by passing down your assets without relying on the probate process.
As the old saying goes, you can’t take it with you when you’re gone — but it’s likely you’ve got some ideas about who should get it. It’s not always pleasant dwelling on the details of passing your assets on to the next generation, but a little bit of preparation now can make things easier for the people you care about the most.
The term “probate” means “the process of distributing a deceased person's property.” It comes from Latin probare, which literally means “to prove” — as in, “Let’s prove this will is genuine.” This isn’t a bad idea in itself, since after all you want your inheritance to go where you want it to go! But in practice, the system can be slow, it can make private decisions part of the public record, and, most distressing of all, it can be quite expensive.
Probate is its own branch of law, and having a probate lawyer may be required by law depending on your state and the size of your estate. Those attorneys’ fees can be formidable, on top of filing fees, executor fees, appraisal and valuation fees, and a host of other administration fees. Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to get around putting your heirs through the probate process.
Easy Ways to Avoid Probate
Here are some simple steps you can take to help your heirs avoid probate headaches.
Designate your beneficiaries. If you’ve got any savings or investment vehicles that allow you to name beneficiaries, whether it’s an IRA, a savings account, or even (in some states) motor vehicles and real estate, then do so. Making these kinds of accounts and assets “payable on death” will ensure the funds go directly to your beneficiary and not through probate court.
Set up a living trust. Property put into a trust doesn’t count as part of your estate, because technically a trustee has control of it. After you pass away, that trustee will be obligated to distribute it according to the terms of the trust.
Own property jointly. Unlike making an account payable on death or establishing a living trust, joint ownership usually only requires a single document: a deed that has the joint owner listed on it. There are a few different ways this can work with real estate; for example, a joint-tenancy deed, “tenancy by the entirety,” or community property with right of survivorship. A financial advisor can help pick the right path for your needs.
Give property away. It almost sounds too simple, but the smaller your estate is, the less likely it will go through probate … and just giving assets to friends and family while you’re alive is a great way to shrink your estate while also eliminating federal and state estate taxes.
In addition to these steps, knowing how small your state considers to be a “small” estate can be very helpful in planning wisely. A “small” estate can sometimes be quite large, but still qualify for an expedited or lower-fee probate process. Whatever your personal situation, an experienced financial advisor can help you review all your options, and perhaps even suggest a few strategies you hadn’t considered for making the most of your assets — and taking care of the people who matter most to you.
We’re looking forward to using our knowledge and experience to help you pursue your financial goals. CONTACT US to schedule a financial and estate review today.