How to Avoid Probate

 |  Probate

Few things are as traumatic as dealing with the death of a loved one. In addition to the pain, there are legal issues, dealing with insurance companies, reading the will, and investments. However, the most difficult issue is probate. Probate is crucial in tying up the deceased’s affairs. Preparing for probate early can lessen the emotional stress and strain on you and your family.
Probate is the process a court takes to conclude legal and financial matters after death and distribute your estate. If there is a will, the court will rely on what it says for direction.
Sometimes, it is not that simple. If there is not a will, the court appoints an administrator who decides how your estate will be distributed. You cannot assume that your spouse and children will automatically get everything or even an equal share.
Probate is lengthy and complex for those not prepared for it. No will? Many assets? You do not have to be rich to encounter problems. Some problems may be associated with the following:
Time. Probate can take a long time. If heirs need their inheritance to pay for college or medical bills, they may have a problem. The problem of time can add steeply to the costs. Expect probate to take from nine months to two years. Complex or contested estates take longer.
Cost. Even a valid will has court costs and fees. If there is no will or it  is being contested, costs can be higher. In fact, costs can consume between 6 and 10 percent of an estate.
Lack of privacy. Probate court proceedings are public record.
Family disagreements. If a will is contested, heirs will have to go to court and retain lawyers. The probate judge appoints an administrator who meets with lawyers to see who has a valid claim. Problems cost time and money and may even go public.
How can you avoid these issues?
Some assets typically bypass probate, such as life insurance, pension plans, IRAs and annuities.
Smaller estates can bypass probate or go through an expedited probate process. For example, New York allows a summary probate hearing for estates under $30,000. Other states allow the use of affidavits to take possession of small estates. Check to see how your state handles probate and verify the information with an attorney.
Joint ownership can help avoid probate. Assets owned jointly by spouses generally bypass probate: These assets can include homes that parents lived in with both names on the title, as well as joint checking accounts. Basically, if an asset has both names on the title, you can avoid probate.
Trusts can avoid probate. If you set up a trust, you pass on your estate without going through probate. Trusts can include real estate, investment and bank accounts, and vehicles. A living trust can be an effective alternative to a will.
To avoid probate, families should plan in advance and consult professionals about which financial instruments are best for them.

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