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Can You Completely Avoid Probate?

Can You Completely Avoid Probate?
Many people want to learn how to avoid probate so their heirs don’t have to cope with these legal proceedings during a stressful time of grief after a death.

When you die, your estate will typically need to go to your heirs through the probate process, which can take several months, might be expensive and will be stressful for loved ones. The article “How To Avoid Probate In 2023” from Forbes applies to avoiding probate in any year and contains useful tips and recommendations. Beck, Lenox & Stolzer Estate Planning and Elder Law is a big proponent of probate avoidance, for several positive reasons. Can you completely avoid probate? Read below.

Simplified Procedures in Some States. Estate law is state-specific, so in some states, there is a means of transferring wealth for a small estate. An estate planning attorney will know how your jurisdiction works. Eligibility varies based on the estate’s total value, the types of assets transferred and who the heirs are. Just because the process is simplified doesn’t mean there won’t be some court involvement. The estate may be vulnerable to creditors, and estate taxes may be owed to the state, so you’ll still want to take steps to protect your estate.

Gifting Assets With Warm Hands. In 2024, you can gift up to $18,000 per person without triggering a gift tax. Married couples may gift a combined $36,000. Let’s say you and your spouse have two children. You may give $36,000 to each child, taking $72,000 out of your estate. This is used as a simple way to reduce a taxable estate. However, don’t gift without carefully analyzing what you and your spouse need to live on. You’ll also want to be sure that you have enough funds for emergencies.

Creating a Trust. Creating a trust is another way to take assets out of your taxable and probate estate. Money, investment accounts and even insurance policies can be moved into trusts. The trust is a legal entity, and once assets are transferred into the trust, they are owned by the trust and not by the person who established the trust. The language in the trust document outlines exactly how you want the assets to be distributed, and a trustee must be selected to manage the trust.

Many different types of trusts serve a variety of purposes. A revocable living trust allows the grantor to change or modify the trust whenever the grantor wants. Nevertheless, the high level of access and flexibility comes with a cost—the assets in the trust may be subject to creditor claims and estate taxes.  An irrevocable trust cannot be changed and provides better protection. Your estate planning attorney will know which type of trust best suits your needs. A trust may also be useful when planning for incapacity and qualifying for Medicaid for long-term care.

Joint Ownership. Owning property with another person can help transfer assets after death. However, some risks are involved. If you and the other person have a falling out or disagree over how the property should be managed, or one wants to sell and the other doesn’t, you could end up in court. In addition, if the other person is sued or goes through a divorce, you may find yourself owning assets with someone you didn’t plan on being in business with.

Pay-on-Death Accounts. Some, but not all, banks and financial institutions allow accounts to be set up to pay another person upon the death of the owner. If possible, you’ll need to list a beneficiary on the account, and the assets will transfer automatically to that person outside of probate. Make sure to update your beneficiary designations, so the correct person receives the assets upon your death. If you have multiple children and only one child’s name is listed as beneficiary, they have no legal obligation to share the assets with their siblings. Using Pay-On-Death accounts should be coordinated with the whole of your estate plan, if an equal distribution is your goal.

If a will is prepared improperly, your family could become embroiled in a court proceeding to settle the estate. The best way to avoid or minimize court involvement is to work with an experienced estate planning attorney who can create a plan addressing your unique situation and achieve your goals. To find out if you can completely avoid probate, contact us at Beck, Lenox & Stolzer. A free, no obligation consultation is available here.

Reference: Forbes (Nov. 30, 2023) “How To Avoid Probate In 2023”

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