Probate is the name for the process of managing and distributing your property after you die. At least, that is the case if your will sends your estate into probate. In probate, your will can take months or years to settle, depending on the complexity of the estate and in what state your will is going through probate. The process is governed by state law and distributes your property according to the terms of your will. It can be time-consuming and expensive.
With advanced planning, you can set up your estate plan to minimize or eliminate the extent to which your estate is subject to the probate process. You can limit the assets that pass through probate in several ways, including:
- Owning property jointly with rights of survivorship;
- Completing beneficiary designation for assets that allow them, such as IRAs, retirement plans and life insurance;
- By putting property in a trust; and by
- Making lifetime gifts.
These and other legal structures can help you avoid probate. But should you?
Why Should I Avoid Probate?
There are a number of reasons for avoiding the probate process to the extent possible. For many estates, it is difficult to avoid probate completely, but it can be done. Reasons to do so include:
- No immediate access to assets: It can take weeks or months to gain access to the deceased’s cash or other liquid assets. In the interim, the heirs will be paying for the deceased’s expenses, including the funeral, utilities and other household bills including property insurance, taxes, storage fees and attorney’s fees. Avoiding probate removes that burden from family members.
- Probate officials can slow the settlement of the estate: Because probate court approval is necessary for many actions involved in settling the deceased’s estate, this can drag out the process of distributing assets to the heirs.
- Probate fees are high and getting higher: States are constantly seeking new sources of revenue, and the dead rarely complain, so states continue to hike probate fees higher and higher. Court fees for all aspects of probate are going up everywhere. Avoiding probate avoids fees.
- Probate records are public: Because probate is a proceeding in a state court, probate records are public. This puts information about the deceased, his or her assets, liabilities, and beneficiaries into the public record. Anyone can obtain this information simply by going to the courthouse and asking. They usually will be charged a copying fee, but this is a small impediment for strangers to obtain the amounts of information you likely would rather keep private.
If You Are Considering Avoiding Probate in the Vidalia Area, Contact the Probate Attorneys of Smith and Tillery
If you are contemplating formulating an estate plan that will help you avoid probate, you should consult with an experienced probate attorney first. The lawyers of Smith and Tillery are well-versed in probate law and can assist you in ensuring that your estate plan accomplishes what you want it to. You can reach us at (912) 537-3030 or through our online contact form.