Why You May Want To Avoid Probate

Estate Administration, sometimes referred to as “probate”, is generally used when we need to change ownership or title to the assets of a decedent upon death.  There are several reasons why you may want to avoid this legal process, including the costs and fees, delays in transferring ownership of assets and potential creditor exposure. Probate makes public what should be done in a private manner. In addition, family contests are more likely to arise, especially with blended families.

Some tips and ideas to help avoid this process or at least mitigate the effects:

  1. Discuss your estate plan with your family. It may help if your family knows why you made the decisions you made regarding your estate plan.  They may not be happy with or agree with your decisions, but if they know about prior to death and have a chance to discuss the matter, the chances of contests later on may decrease. This obviously is a personal family decision as some families will not wish or choose not to discuss their private matters with family.
  2. Use transfer strategies.  In certain circumstances, you may be able to pass property directly to beneficiaries outside of the probate process by use of beneficiary designations or joint ownership. Although this is a simple way to avoid probate, it is something that should be discussed with an advisor or attorney before implementing as there are many pitfalls with this type of planning.
  3. Create a Trust. A common strategy used to avoid probate is to establish a trust.  As there are many different types of trusts, we will discuss the use of a revocable living trust to avoid probate for purposes of this post. Trusts used for Medicaid planning, tax or charitable planning or other strategies are beyond the scope of this article. The living trust can be established to hold property for minors, individuals with special needs and other family members with issues including divorce, substance abuse, and creditor protection.