Avoiding Probate

The probate process exists to ensure that a deceased person’s wishes are respected, that their legitimate debts are paid, and that their property is distributed systematically in the absence of a will. The probate process can certainly be expensive. Costs might include fees for attorneys, appraisers, and court costs. It can be time-consuming, especially if there is a dispute or some of the estate needs to be liquidated to pay debts. Therefore, most strategies for avoiding probate require some planning ahead. That said, there are a few primary ways to avoid probate:

  1. Joint Ownership with Right of Survivorship- Consider transferring assets at death. This is a cost-effective and efficient estate planning approach. Most real property can be jointly owned with another:
    1. Real Estate- married couples
    2. Property such as cars, boats
    3. Bank accounts
    4. Stocks
  2. Death Deeds- The deed to the property automatically transfers to the heir upon the death of the owner.
  3. Beneficiary Designations- Transferring an asset to a named beneficiary, without giving the beneficiary any ownership in the asset during your lifetime. For beneficiary designation, you can fill out the forms on your own:
    1. Life insurance policies
    2. Retirement plans
    3. Annuities
    4. Health savings accounts
    5. Stock options
  4. Trusts
    1. Irrevocable Trust– The donor does not control the trust once it is established.
    2. Revocable Trust– The donor can change the terms of the trust while they are alive and can control the trust.
    3. Living Trusts– Only property within a deceased person’s estate goes through probate. Therefore, transferring someone’s property from their estate and into a trust prior to death avoids probate.
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