Probate is a legal process that serves several important purposes. Every state has its own probate laws, and its primary goal is to ensure that when people die, someone is there to manage any assets they leave behind.
Where individuals have a will, probate also plays a role because, after the individual passes away, the probate court is the judicial body that validates the will and makes sure it is legal, after which the deceased person’s assets are distributed.
The process of probate goes something like this:
- If a person does not leave a will, the court will designate an individual to take inventory of the deceased person’s assets and distribute them according to the law
- If the person leaves a will, someone must file the will after the person passes away (typically a family member or someone included in the will)
- The court authenticates the will and ensures that it is valid
- Involved parties take inventory of the assets the deceased person left behind, appraise any property they may have owned, and pay debts and taxes
- The court authorizes the designated person to distribute the assets according to the will.
While the probate process might sound straightforward, it can be complex and lengthy. It is also a costly endeavor because it takes time and often involves legal and court fees.
Is there another way?
Yes. This is where estate planning comes in, and you have probably heard many people talk about the importance of creating and having an estate plan. Avoiding probate is wise in many ways, especially because it is time-consuming and expensive.
Estate planning allows you to make choices about your assets for when you are no longer around. If you plan, you help your family avoid the complexities and downsides of probate.
Why estate planning?
Estate planning is unique in that it gives you full control over what you want to do with your assets, which allows you to have peace of mind.
It also allows you to utilize different tools, like trusts, lifetime gifts, or other ways of passing assets on to other people that do not involve going through probate.
If done properly, you can create an estate plan and avoid probate court entirely. While many associate estate planning with wealthy people, it is not only for the wealthy. Plus, it offers benefits like:
- Minimizing taxes and legal fees
- Protecting your assets from creditors
- Provide for your family’s future
While there is a legitimate legal purpose for probate court, it is not something you must go through if you do not want to.
It is often best to avoid probate if possible, so you can ensure that an executor of your choice distributes your assets according to your wishes.
Remember, it is never too early to work on your estate plan. In fact, many people begin their estate planning when they get married or have a child.
Taking the time to plan now can save you and your family time and unnecessary stress and anxiety.