If you’ve taken any steps to investigate your estate planning options, chances are you’ve seen countless warnings about how you want to avoid probate. If you’re like most people, however, you might not understand exactly what probate is, let alone why so many people try to avoid it.
Probate is the legal process by which the courts determine how a deceased’s assets are to be distributed to his or her heirs. If a person leaves a will, the court will try to respect the wishes it sets out. When there is no will, the courts will distribute your assets in a way it deems appropriate.
While probate may sound convenient at first glance, it often does nothing but add stress and cost to what is already a difficult time. There are three main reasons why people try to structure their estate planning to avoid the probate process.
One of the biggest complaints about probate is that it can be incredibly time-consuming. Like any court process, you’re at the mercy of the court’s calendar. While the probate process in theory could be completed in six months, it’s not uncommon for it to take years, even for a straightforward will.
The already-slow probate process can take even longer if any heir decides to contest the will. And, if you have assets in multiple locations, the estate must go through probate in each of the states where the property is located. All of this adds up to your loved ones waiting a very long time to actually access the funds or enjoy the things you wanted them to have.
Probate can be very expensive. While the costs of probate vary from state to state, every court will take a set portion of the total gross estate in probate fees, which can be as high as 10%. The court can also use money from the estate to pay for lawyers, court costs, or other fees that are part of the probate process. Even for the simplest estate, it can add up quickly.
These costs only increase if there are disputes or challenges to the will. Furthermore, if you need to go through probate in multiple states, you’ll have to pay probate costs in each. The result is that a significant portion of the money you intended for your beneficiaries will go instead to the courts.
Probate is a public court process. That means that any information and documents addressed by the courts in handling your estate become part of the public record, including your financial records, debts, assets, and how your property is ultimately distributed. Anyone who wants to look up your estate can find out exactly what you owned and who owns it now. If your estate included items of significant value, your heirs could potentially become prime targets for thieves and scammers. Most people prefer to keep sensitive financial and family information private, and avoiding probate is the only way to do that.
The good news is that there are ways to ensure that your loved ones are provided for without having to go through probate, including various forms of trusts. An attorney experienced with estate planning can guide you through your options and help you decide what’s best for your individual situation.
Contact a California Estate Planning Attorney Today
The Ledbetter Law Firm, APC is dedicated to helping individuals and families plan for their futures through all aspects of estate planning. Contact The Ledbetter Law Firm, APC to discuss your estate planning needs and any questions you might have about trusts, wills, or the probate process.