If you have ever considered or participated in estate planning, the term “probate” has likely come up. What is probate and why is it important? Is probate helpful or harmful to your estate planning? Read on to learn more.
Simply put, probate is the legal process by which a person’s property is transferred to recipients after they die. The court supervises this process to ensure an estate is appropriately and completely collected, managed, and distributed. Not all of a deceased person’s assets are automatically part of this process, however, as the deceased may have set up certain accounts or legal structures to prevent their property from being transferred in this way.
The probate process occurs whether or not the deceased has created a will. If a person dies and has a valid will, probate is required to ensure the provisions of that will are implemented. This is because courts want to make sure that the terms of the will are effected as the decedent intended, to the extent that is possible. If the decedent had no will, a court is needed to ensure the decedent’s assets are distribute according to the state’s intestacy laws—which is a fancy way of describing the laws which describes who has priority and how much they can inherit from a decedent. In these situations, courts will oversee the process to make sure that beneficiaries are given what the state law says they are entitled to receive.
Oftentimes, individuals engaged in estate planning will create certain legal structures like trusts and take out insurance policies. One obvious reason for doing so is to ensure that their loved ones are cared for, but another reason is that these kinds of legal structures are exempt from the probate process. Something many people do not fully appreciate is that the process of facilitating an estate through the probate process can take a long time—many months or even years depending on whether and how much assets are disputed or what claims are levied against an estate. The deceased may have many creditors, for example, or family members may, unfortunately, squabble over who has a right to certain assets.
Placing assets into trusts can be a very effective way of avoiding probate entirely. Avoiding the probate process can result in fewer legal fees, a low or nonexistent estate tax, and facilitates the transfer of assets to beneficiaries much quicker than probate. Other popular ways of avoiding the probate process involve purchasing life insurance policies, creating certain retirement accounts, and purchasing real estate. Ultimately, only a skilled estate planning attorney can help make sure your estate is as far from the reaches of probate as possible.
At Unique Estate Law, we know that estate planning can be complicated—and we also know that most people want their estates to be distributed to their beneficiaries as quickly as possible! Whether you are looking to create your first estate plan or hoping to update it to keep it far away from the probate process, Unique Estate Law can help. Chris Tymchuck has extensive experience helping clients create estate plans which both effect their wishes and protect their assets from prolonged probate. Contact Unique Estate Law today to learn more.