Probate is the legal process involved in distributing the estate of a deceased person to the lawful heirs. It is not as simple as it sounds unless an executed will or a living trust defines who gets what.
When Is Probate Initiated?
An estate executor or attorney typically initiates probate. A probate court verifies the will, enables an executor to distribute the estate to the rightful beneficiaries, and pays any taxes owed.
In the absence of a will, an administrative proceeding is held to decide how the estate will be split. The court will appoint an administrator for the estate, distributing the property following the probate judge’s orders.
Steps Involved in the Probate Process
The outcome of the probate process is mainly dependent on the existence of a will. Here are the basic steps involved:
- Submitting the death certificate
- Getting the will validated
- Appointment of probate officer
- Posting a bond
- Informing concerned beneficiaries and creditors
- Getting a property assessment
- Paying outstanding dues and fees on behalf of the deceased
- Distributing the remaining assets
Why Should You Avoid Probate?
Though probate sounds like a straightforward process, many people try to avoid it. Here are a few reasons why:
- It is time-consuming: Some probates have taken years to complete, especially if the estate is complicated or contains a contested will.
- It is costly: In most cases, executor fees, attorney fees, and other administrative charges, such as appraiser fees, are incurred during the probate process. And it could run into thousands of dollars if the probate goes on for years.
- It is not a private process: The probate process is a state legal matter. Everything that happens during the process becomes a public record.
How to Avoid Probate
A few simple measures can avoid complicated probate.
1. Have a small estate: Check your state laws to find out what is considered a small estate so that your beneficiaries can get exemptions from probate.
2. Transfer your assets while alive: You can simplify the probate process by transferring ownership of your assets when you are alive. If you own a Menomonee Falls home, for example, and want to make it simple, you could sell your home to cash home buyers in Menomonee Falls and distribute the cash to your heirs.
3. Instate a living trust: Trusts are not included under your estate and can simplify the entire process upon death. Your trustee is obliged to distribute the trust’s assets as per the trust agreement terms.
4. Make your accounts payable on death: Accounts payable on death are directly transferred to the nominee or beneficiary on the account without going through the probate process.
5. Go for joint ownership: Whether property or bank accounts, go for joint ownership, enabling your spouse or the joint owner to transfer the asset without going through probate.
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