Although it does not make it right, most Americans do not have an estate plan. Many of those people likely do not know what probate is. When someone passes away without having done any estate planning, their assets will pass through probate. Just because you chose not to make an estate plan (which you should strongly reconsider) does not mean you won’t ever be someone else’s beneficiary. In other words, you may have to experience the probate process regardless of your personal decisions.
So, what is “probate?” It’s a term you have likely heard before, even if you aren’t fully aware of what it entails. At the Family First Firm, we get asked this question frequently. There are ways to circumvent the probate process, and clients want to know what it is before doing so. Probate is a legal process in which your assets are distributed to your beneficiaries and creditors after you pass away.
Here’s how we describe it: Probate is a court case that you file against yourself with your own money for the benefit of your creditors after you pass away.
If that seems negative, it’s because it is. One of the only times it makes sense to go through probate is when you have family members, siblings, etc., who will be fighting each other over your estate. In this scenario, you may welcome having a judge oversee everything.
However, if you are not in this situation, it makes sense to avoid probate. Why? Because it is costly and time-consuming. Even a “typical” estate could take seven months to a year to go through the probate process. When someone challenges a will or initiates probate litigation, it could extend the probate process out to several years. When minors are involved, the court could assign them legal counsel. And the fees for which come out of the estate.
Another overlooked area of probate, which deserves to be mentioned, is that the process is public. There will be published notifications to ensure that creditors have an opportunity to make a claim against the estate for any money they are still owed. For example, Jerry Garcia’s will is public record. We mention that solely to point out how public your personal decisions and wishes may become.
Family First Firm
When you meet with the experienced estate planning attorneys at the Family First Firm, we can discuss the probate process in greater detail. We can also have a conversation about the various types of trusts you can create, allowing your estate to bypass probate. Contact us today to schedule your consultation.