Estate planning is an important step in making sure your assets are distributed properly after your death. However, despite this, nearly 55% of Americans have yet to establish a plan for their estates. While planning wills may sound like a morbid topic that you’d rather put off, planning ahead can help alleviate stress on grieving family members and ensure that your assets are divided the way you intend. To better understand this, let’s take a look at the probate process.
When Does Probate Begin?
Probate is the term for the legal process that involved proving the last will and testament of a person and it begins once a person passes away. The process essentially means that the final will is verified to ensure that the deceased party’s intentions are being carried out as intended. If no will exists, it will be up to a probate court to decide how assets are distributed to family members.
For small estates this process can take a couple of weeks to months, with larger estates sometimes taking years to settle, especially if anyone contests the will or files a petition. While having a preestablished will won’t rule out the possibility of probate, it can make the process easier and quicker for everyone involved. Because of this, it is worth considering working with a probate lawyer who knows how to best structure a will to ensure that your terms are as incontestable as possible. This can further ensure that your assets are divided as you desire, without the fear of a long drawn out battle.
What is Probate Court?
A probate court is where the executor presents the final will for verification by a judge. If no will had been drawn up, it will be up to the judge to consider the deceased party’s assets and appoint an administrator to manage the estate and how it is divided. This administer will be responsible for appraising the assets and first paying any taxes or expenses that were otherwise left unsettled before death. An administrator will also contact any named beneficiaries and distribute the assets. If beneficiaries are named, it will be up to them to decide what types of property are divided and among whom or if they are to be sold with the value distributed equally.
The Cost of Probate
The cost of probate can range from two to seven percent of the estate’s value, and a well-constructed will can help save thousands by reducing the need for hiring additional attorneys or filing fees associated with petitions or contests.
How You Can Avoid Probate
While even a final will and testament isn’t necessarily enough to prevent probate, it can help simplify the process. In some cases, if your estate is worth over a certain amount it will have to be probated, regardless of will. However, most state laws do give your spouse the right to claim assets, and any assets that you own jointly with someone else will go to that party for sole ownership. Similarly, assets in a trust, life insurance death benefits, and payable-on-death accounts are nonprofitable. This means they will go to the named beneficiary without contest. Having these measures set up can help take the burden off of your loved ones should your death occur, and they can also help ensure that your assets are distributed the way you want.
If you haven’t constructed a last will and testament, consider speaking with a lawyer about your options. While many might see it as a morbid topic, it is a necessary part of making sure your estate is taken care of and that your assets are fairly distributed as you intend.