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What is Probate and How Do You Avoid It?

What is Probate and How Do You Avoid It?

Many of our clients ask how to avoid probate so that their estate won’t be withheld from beneficiaries for months or even years while the last will and testament is verified by probate court. Attorney and court fees can also reduce how much estate is left for beneficiaries. In this blog post, we will go over asset protection planning strategies so you can avoid probate and all its related costs. To learn more about how to protect your estate after death, we recommend contacting an elder law lawyer near you.

What is Probate?

Probate is a process the courts go through to authenticate a last will and testament and ensure everything is carried out according to the wishes of the deceased. The personal representative you appoint for your estate will go through the process of locating and securing assets. They will also be responsible for making sure debts, bills, and taxes are paid before distributing the remainder of the estate to beneficiaries.

While probate is a necessary legal process to make sure your final wishes are carried out, it can reduce how much money is passed on to your beneficiaries. According to nolo.com, probate can eat up to 5% your estate’s value through attorney and probate court costs.

Since the probate process takes time, your beneficiaries may have to wait months or even years before they are able to inherit what remains of your estate. Your personal representative or beneficiaries may even have to hire a probate litigation attorney if there are any will contests.

How Can I Avoid Probate?

Learning how to avoid probate can be as simple as setting up an appointment with an experienced elder law attorney. Below, are just some of the things your attorney may advise you to do to avoid probate.

Write a Living Trust

Like the name suggests, a living trust goes into effect while you are still living. A trust planning attorney can help you set up a living trust and appoint a trustee. The assets you place “in trust” are then managed by the trustee. Since you’re still alive when all this happens, the courts don’t have to prove through probate that everything is being carried out according to your will.

Name Beneficiaries for Bank and Retirement Accounts

Most people are surprised to learn that you can name beneficiaries for bank accounts. Taking this simple step can ensure the right people inherit your money, especially if you have a lot in savings. You should also make sure that your retirement accounts have beneficiaries listed so they won’t get tied up in probate. Instead, they will go directly to their intended recipients at death.

Hold Property Jointly

Joint property cannot be included in your estate if the other property owner is still alive. For this reason, many married couples own houses jointly so the primary residence doesn’t get tied up in probate after a spouse’s death. Jointly-held property will always go to the survivor, which is why it’s important to check the specific ownership designation of your real estate. It is also important to keep in mind that after the death of the first spouse, the house should be retitled to protect it from probate after the death of the second spouse.

The Law Offices of Sean Patrick Cox PLLC provides expertise on estate planning to clients in both Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo. If you would like to set up a legal consultation with our Grand Rapids probate attorney, feel free to contact us.