The Ins and Outs of Probate Court

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 (info@stephenswmg.com) 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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*Please remember that past performance may not be indicative of future results. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, investment strategy, or product (including the investments and/or investment strategies recommended or undertaken by Stephens Consulting, LLC, doing business as Stephens Wealth Management Group (SWMG), or any non-investment related content, made reference to directly or indirectly in this newsletter will be profitable, equal any corresponding indicated historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful. Due to various factors, including changing market conditions and/or applicable laws, the content may no longer be reflective of current opinions or positions. Moreover, you should not assume that any discussion or information contained in this newsletter serves as the receipt of, or as a substitute for, personalized investment advice from Stephens Consulting. Please remember that if you are a SWMG client, it remains your responsibility to advise us, in writing, if there are any changes in your personal/financial situation or investment objectives for the purpose of reviewing/evaluating/revising our previous recommendations and/or services, or if you would like to impose, add, or to modify any reasonable restrictions to our investment advisory services. To the extent that a reader has any questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed above to their individual situation, they are encouraged to consult with the professional advisor of their choosing. SWMG is neither a law firm nor a certified public accounting firm and no portion of the newsletter content should be construed as legal or accounting advice. A copy of SWMG’s current written disclosure Brochure discussing our advisory services and fees is available for review upon request. Links are being provided for information purposes only. SWMG is not affiliated with and does not endorse, authorize, or sponsor any of the listed websites or their respective sponsors. SWMG is not responsible for the content of any website or the collection or use of information regarding any website’s users and/or members. Important Disclosure.

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