The purpose of this article is to provide some insight into probate court – which could become a part of your heir(s) future whether you have a trust, a will, or something else – and provide tips to support your heirs. Probate involves the court-managed distribution of assets. In some cases, there are things you can do to avoid probate; in other cases, the goal is to lessen the time and cost of the process. Note that even with a trust, an oversight or circumstance could force a family down the probate path. This includes:
- Assets are titled in the decedent’s (deceased person’s) name alone.
- Assets are payable to the estate either because the estate is the designated beneficiary, or the asset has no designated beneficiary. Life insurance and employee benefits are good examples.
- Amounts are owed to the decedent before death but paid after death. Examples include the decedent’s last paycheck, and other amounts due to the decedent’s estate by reason of his or her death, such as an award from a wrongful death lawsuit.
- Personal property has not specifically been named as a bequest in the will or has not been placed in a revocable trust.
- There are legally valid objections to the will, such as contested ownership, which the court must rule on.
There are steps you can take to ease the potential burden on your family members.
Steps You Can Take Today
- Make sure that your investment and bank accounts have beneficiaries, and if you have worked with an estate planning attorney, that the beneficiaries named match your plan. When a beneficiary is not named, it can take weeks or months for a letter of appointment to be issued by the courts. While waiting for the letter of appointment, things like burial costs and tax payments may come due, leaving your heirs to temporarily foot the bill.
- Carefully consider who you name as your executor or personal representative. Sometimes people are not equipped to play these roles, as they require a certain amount of organizational and financial acumen along with the time required to talk to stakeholders. It may be preferable to name a financial institution or professional when settling an estate. This can also help avoid the potential for family disputes.
- Consider paying for your funeral arrangements ahead of time. If you do this, be sure to make sure your family members or heirs are aware that this has been done.
- Create a document that contains critical information about your wishes. We have created a Legacy Workbook for clients, and their family members. The document includes space for information about your key advisors, medical and insurance information, the location of important documents, funeral wishes, and more. This document can be used as the basis for a family conversation, and most certainly will serve as a guide map for family members / next of kin. Send us an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call our office to receive a copy.
- Have a family meeting. Although these conversations can be difficult, they are important. They serve as an opportunity to share family values, hopes for the family, healthcare directives, and other special requests. Attend our webinar with advisor Jill Carr and author Cameron Huddleston to learn more about how to have such a conversation. Click here to register.
- Consolidate and/or aggregate your investments with one advisor. This provides your heirs with the support of one financial quarterback.
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