Beyond grief, one reality that loved ones must face when someone passes is the responsibility of dealing with the departed’s estate. This undertaking can be quite cumbersome, especially due to the seemingly “foreign” language of the law.
One aspect, the probate process, is public. It is filed in the city or county in which the deceased resided. After the case is opened by the probate judge, the administrator or executor’s list of duties begin.
First, notices must be sent to heirs, creditors, and often posted in the local newspaper. This is to allow interested parties to make a claim on the estate.
It is only then that the real work begins. First, the executor or appointed administrator is required to create an inventory of the estate. This includes non-probate assets as well (which we will explain later).
Payments to creditors and debtors comes next. The debts may not be easily known and could require significant research to discover everything owed by the estate. Also, any tax returns will need to be filed. If estate taxes are owed, this could hang up the process for months or even years.
Then, and only then, can the beneficiaries named in the will and/or heirs be paid. If there are insufficient funds, the case will need to go back before the judge to reconcile these issues.
We have always said we live in a friendly state to die. This entire process could take as little as four months in states like Texas. However, it could take as many as eight or nine months in other states. And…. don’t forget about property you own in other states - that property is subject to the probate laws of that state.
The bottom line… Yuck. Who really wants to endure this pain especially during a time when family members should be focused on family?
So, is it possible to avoid probate altogether? The short answer is yes. However, unless your estate is really small, it takes a little work and you will need to do a little planning. Sometimes it is as simple as retitling a few assets or naming a beneficiary or two. Sometimes it requires some re-working of your legal documents and sometimes it requires more. But one thing is certain, no matter the requirements, it will almost always be easier and less stressful than probate. That in turn can help you get the one thing we all desire most — keeping the family together and help ensure there will always be good Christmases and Thanksgivings!
If this scenario applies to you, you can plan now or your family pays later. Which legacy do you want to leave?
The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation.