If you’re thinking about estate planning, chances are you’ve already come across a seemingly scary word: Probate.
What Is Probate?
Probate is the court-supervised process of authenticating the last will and testament of someone who is deceased. It may also be used when the deceased did not leave a will behind. Essentially, it is one way for the state to ensure that the decedent’s wishes are being carried out and to be sure that all of their debts have been paid as well. The process can seem confusing and often ends up being a bit costly, but it’s nothing to be afraid of as it is very common. Anything that is left in the decedent’s name at the time of their death is subject to probate.
Some Ways to Avoid Probate:
- Make Gifts to Your Beneficiaries
Because probate is dependent on the decedent owning a piece of property, when that property is given away in the form of a gift, it is no longer owned by the decedent. Seems simple enough, right? Anything that isn’t in the decedent’s name is not subject to probate.
- Name a Beneficiary on Your Accounts
Did you know that some assets allow you to name beneficiaries? For example, you can name a beneficiary (or beneficiaries) on your bank accounts, investments, and retirement plans. And it’s not difficult to name beneficiaries on these accounts–you simply fill out some paperwork as provided by your bank or brokerage company. In some states you are even able to designate beneficiaries for your real estate through a transfer on death deed or affidavit. Additionally, life insurance policies, 401K plans, stocks, bonds, IRA accounts, and pension plans are all payable on death.
- Joint Tenancy With a Right of Survivorship
Joint Tenancy With a Right of Survivorship is another way to keep property from going through probate. It’s not too difficult. When another person’s name is on the title of, for example, a home, and one of the owners dies, then the property would go to the other joint-owner.
- Create a Revocable Living Trust
A simple and straightforward way to avoid probate is by creating a living trust. This is similar to a will, but has one key difference: It allows the person that is appointed as trustee the ability to transfer property and possessions to the beneficiaries without undergoing probate. You still get to choose who will inherit what, but essentially the trustee is the owner of your assets, and therefore they’re not required to go through probate.
How Long Does the Probate Process Take?
Because probate law is dependent on state law, the length of time is could take for an estate to go through probate varies. On average, the entire process can take six to nine months, but if the deceased did not keep clear records of their assets, or if the will is contested, the process can take considerably longer.
What Do I Do If My Loved One’s Estate Is Going Through Probate?
If your loved one’s estate is going through probate and you are dealing with the process, don’t hesitate to call a probate attorney Allentown, PA offers who is ready to help you through the process.
Thank you to our friends and contributors at Klenk Law for their insight into estate planning and probate.