What is Probate and How Can I Avoid It?

What Is Probate?

Probate is a legal term for the process by which a court distributes an estate to heirs and beneficiaries after paying any debts owed by the person who died (the decedent). If the decedent left behind a will, the court usually follows those directives. If no will exists, the court applies state law.

What Are the Steps Involved in Probate?

Probate involves some necessary steps.

  • The court names someone to serve as the executor of the estate. The executor may be named in the will, but if not, the court will appoint someone.
  • If a will exists, the court determines whether or not the document is valid, using state law to make the determination.
  • The court establishes a list of the property included in the estate. Nothing can be sold or otherwise disposed of until this task is complete.
  • All property is appraised.
  • The decedent’s taxes and debts are paid from the estate, including court costs and fees associated with the probate case.
  • Whatever is left is distributed according to the will or state law, whichever is applicable. If any party wants to challenge the will, the court rules on those matters as well.

Why Should I Plan to Avoid Probate?

Probate cases take from six to nine months on average from the date the court opens the case. Of course, this varies by court, and disputes can drag the process out for years. Probate is also an expensive process; the government takes fines and fees from the estate for handling. Also, probate is a public proceeding. Anyone who wishes to review the records can see just how your estate was distributed.

Is Any Property Excluded From Probate?

Non-probate assets include life insurance policies and any other type of bank or retirement account with a designated beneficiary. Real estate owned jointly with a right of survivorship also passes outside probate. Some people choose to establish a living trust while they are still alive. This legal tool may avoid probate altogether and settle an estate much more quickly.

Probate law is state-specific, so if you are working on your estate plan, you need a knowledgeable and experienced probate lawyer in Melbourne, FL who is familiar with the rules of your jurisdiction. He or she can help you establish an estate plan that may avoid probate and save your loved ones money and time after you are gone. Get legal advice so that your hard-earned savings and assets are a blessing to those you leave behind.

Thanks to the Law Offices of Arcadier, Biggie & Wood for their insight into estate planning and how to avoid probate.