What Is Probate and Should I Try to Avoid It?

What Is Probate and Should I Try to Avoid It?

Should you avoid sweets? Should you avoid grinding your teeth? Should you wear a mouth-guard while playing sports? The answer to all of these questions is most likely a definite yes. These three things have been proven to result in disease or injury. While probate might be like having the dentist put in a new filling, it is for the best and the short-term unpleasantness is outweighed by the long-term benefits of the process. The same might be said about probate.

What Exactly is Probate?

Probate is the legal process through which a court ensures that the decedent’s just debts, taxes and expenses get paid before the estate assets are distributed according to the decedent’s will. Although probate has its detractors, a will is designed to ensure that your estate passes to your family with a minimum amount of time, expense and red tape. Without a will, the decedent is said to have died “intestate,” and his or her assets are distributed according to state law, usually with close relatives (spouse and children) receiving set fractional shares or percentages. Intestate succession is a one-size-fits-all solution that rarely fits what the decedent would have wanted. Alternatively, a will can make special provisions for such concerns as family members with special needs, substance addictions, creditor problems, unstable marriages or blended families.
Reviewing the title of assets in your estate and completing all of your beneficiary designations for life insurance, IRAs and other investment plans, so that they are consistent with your estate plan, can make the probate move more smoothly or perhaps even make it unnecessary.

So if I Brush and Floss Can I Avoid Probate?

Your dental health is dependent on being smart and taking the necessary steps to avoid fillings (and root canals and …?). Eat a healthy diet and brush and floss regularly. Likewise, the goal of estate planning is to take the necessary steps to make sure you have conveyed your wishes after you pass and you have provided for your family ­— as well as other individuals and organizations that are important to you. This means drafting a will, financial planning and possibly a trust. In some cases you may be able to avoid probate, but what you should not do is avoid planning ahead.

Plan Ahead – Plan Now

Avoiding probate may not be possible or even appropriate for your unique circumstances, but working with your attorney is the best way to make sure everything is in order and your wishes are clear and will be followed when you pass away.
Probate avoidance is a process that really begins with proper legal planning now. Planning ahead will involve engaging an experienced estate planning attorney about your future and your objectives. He or she will have the experience to create a strategy most appropriate for your circumstances. Estate planning is not a do-it-yourself project and, just like oral surgery, should be left to the professionals.