When a loved one passes away, it’s often a very stressful and emotional time for the family and friends. We are one of the first phone calls made when one of our clients die. We meet with the families and hold their hands through the process of either probate or Trust Administration. Anyone who has had a close friend or relative pass away has probably heard of probate, the process by which the estate of the deceased is inventoried and distributed according to state laws. While often maligned as a headache, in reality probate offers a solid legal framework with advantages for those who have properly prepared prior to death and who have retained skilled legal counsel. Court oversight at every step, complete control of creditor claims, and the provision of a legal forum for complaints are important features of probate that are often overlooked. At its heart, probate is a process, and like any process, if one steps back, takes an overview of the procedures involved, breaks the whole into manageable parts, and works with qualified legal assistance, the end can usually be reached quickly, efficiently and economically.
“Probate” or the judicial process of officially “proving a will,” is a required legal court process that must be started in order to transfer the ownership of a loved one’s assets to heirs or beneficiaries, as spelled out in a will. Probate is also mandatory in the case of the absence of a will. Going through probate is a step-by-step court process that can take anywhere from nine months to two years. The process can become complicated due to several factors including bureaucratic delays, creditors’ claims, missing documents, unpaid taxes, or even genealogical questions. Each probate is very different and very individual. That’s why hiring a probate attorney is an absolute necessity. A qualified probate lawyer can efficiently work through court proceedings.
If your loved one had a trust (also referred to as a “living trust,”) the family must go through a process called trust administration. Trust Administration is a process that does not normally involve the court, but does have certain requirements for distributing your loved one’s wealth. The trust administration process is a much more streamlined and efficient process than probate, and can typically only take four months, but usually not more than a year. There is no court process involved with a trust administration.
If you are named as a successor trustee to your loved one’s trust, I can guide you through the process of distributing those assets legally and efficiently. If your loved one has a living trust and becomes incapable of handling his or her own affairs for the remainder of their lifetime, you may be named the successor trustee of the trust. With my assistance, I can easily put the trust administration process in place for you. The beauty of a trust is that the trustee does most of the work—not the attorney. I just provide the guidelines—sort of like dotting the “i’s” and crossing the “t’s” to get the trustee established in the role. The trust administration process is a much more private process than probate, since no court is involved.