3 Things You Should Know About Wills And Probate

It's only natural to avoid thinking one's own mortality, so you may naturally hesitate to address subjects related to your death, including legal issues such as wills and probate. But understanding how these legal instruments work, and how one becomes necessary in the absence of the other, can help you set your surviving loved ones on the easiest, least painful path possible in the wake of your death. Here are three important things you should understand about how wills and probate govern the distribution of your estate.

  1. The Probate Process Can Be Lengthy and Complex - Probate processes may vary according to your state's specific procedural rules and the complexity of the situation. Most states honor at least some parts of a code known as the Uniform Probate Code, but each individual probate court can impose its own rules and restrictions as well. One of your surviving relatives will generally fill out a written request to become the official executor of the will.This person will also have to notify creditors and other interested parties about the probate status and possibly even post a bond against any losses that take place during the process. But as annoying as the paperwork can prove for an informal probate process, formal probate can be an even worse experience. In this type of probate, a dispute between survivors over the distribution of the estate can requires he probate court to hold a formal hearing.
  2. A Will Can Help Your Survivors Sidestep Probate - For most estate holders, the crafting of an officially-witnessed last will and testament can prevent many kinds of distress among the survivors -- including the time, effort and stress of the probate process. By formally naming your beneficiaries, declaring the executor to administer the will, and stating exactly how you want your assets distributed, you eliminate any need for the probate court to get involved and make decisions on your estate's behalf. You also eliminate any squabbling between relatives and other survivors who might otherwise fight over your assets. Better yet, if you assign power of attorney to some trusted figure while also crafting your will, your financial interests will be protected both before and after your death.
  3. Some Assets May Be Exempt from Probate - With or without a will, some assets or even entire estates may enjoy exemption from the probate process. In many states, an estate smaller than a certain dollar amount will escape probate, instead going automatically to the next of kin. (In Arizona, for instance, estates with less than $75,000 in personal property do not have to go through probate.) You can also exclude certain assets from the probate process by transferring their ownership to a living trust that you create for just such a purpose. In this instance, an appointed trustee takes over the management of the assets either before or upon your death. But not every kind of asset qualifies for inclusion in a living trust, so you'll want to talk to your financial or legal advisor about which items you should fund your trust with.

Unless you own a genuinely small estate and have few or no relatives, you'll find a last will and testament invaluable for sparing your loved ones from the pains of probate. Talk to an estate attorney, such as at Ritter & LeClere APC Attorneys At Law, about your asset distribution options now -- instead of letting others make those decisions for you.