The probate courts primarily exist to help enforce the law regarding the passage of wealth and assets from one generation to the next. Unfortunately, despite their noble intentions, what the probate courts often produce is wealth-diminishing expenses, exasperating delays and familial tension.
An estate caught up in probate could easily spend tens of thousands of dollars on court costs and attorney fees. The family members waiting for the resolution of the estate will also have to go without access to critical resources while simultaneously still grieving the loss of their loved one. Thankfully, there are a few tricks that can help reduce the risk of having your estate stuck in probate court.
Change the ownership of assets so that they don’t have to pass through court
The probate courts often get involved with an estate because there is a major asset, like a house, that has to pass to other people. You can completely sidestep the probate process by changing the way that you hold title on a house.
For example, executing a deed that changes how you hold title to joint tenants with rights of survivorship will allow your spouse, child or unmarried romantic partner to continue living in the property when you die.
You can do similar things with bank accounts and investment accounts by adding transfer on death clauses that allow someone else to take immediate ownership of the contents of the account when they present the financial institution with your death certificate.
Move your valuable assets into a trust
Instead of giving ownership immediately to other people at the time of your death, you could instead transfer your biggest and most valuable assets into a trust now while you are still alive.
Not only will that help your heirs and beneficiaries avoid probate court for those major assets, but it can also reduce the likelihood of creditors being able to claim those assets after you die. As an added bonus, if you create and fund a trust early enough, doing so might make it easier for you to qualify for Medicaid if you need it as you grow older.
There are other tactics people use, such as strategic gifts to loved ones, that can also help them avoid probate complications during the administration of their estate. Talking about your assets and your wishes with a probate attorney can give you a better idea of the best way to plan your estate to minimize the risk of probate court.