After a loved one passes away, many people start to understandably dread the idea of dealing with probate. For some, receiving an inheritance can be the difference between accruing debt or paying bills, so probate can really be a problem and not just an inconvenience. Despite how unavoidable probate may appear seem, it actually isn’t.
Not everything that a decedent owns needs to go through probate before they can be distributed. With a carefully prepared estate plan in place, there are numerous ways to sidestep probate regarding particular assets.
Three ways to avoid probate include:
- Joint ownership: Anything that is owned jointly between the two or more people will usually – not always, as we will explain in a bit – avoid probate. If two people owned or controlled a piece of property and one of those people dies, the surviving person will gain total control of that asset automatically and without the need of the court’s attention.
- Designated beneficiaries: Certain assets will ask you to name a beneficiary at the time you first obtain them. A common example would be an insurance policy or a retirement plan. If you pass away, the value of that asset will be transferred to the named beneficiary, if possible.
- Trusts: Someone can allow significant portions of their estate to avoid probate if they are placed into a trust of some kind. You may want to consider a revocable living trust, for example, if you are concerned about a particular asset getting slowed by probate when a relative or loved one needs it most.
Two of the ways that an asset can get pulled into probate are:
- Sole ownership: An asset with only one person on the title or owning it will be pushed into probate if that person passes away. Probate court is the only authority that can strip names off titles without conflict, and so it is actually necessary and should not be automatically avoided.
- Contest: Sometimes a relative sharply disagrees with the way inheritances were planned to be distributed. Taking the matter to probate court and challenging the validity of a will can bring just about anything into probate, if the court believes there is validity behind the petitioner’s claim.
For more than 35 years, Adams Law Firm and our Katy probate attorneys have been helping people figure out the complexities of probate and estate planning. To learn how to avoid probate, or if you should even try to do so, contact our firm for personalized legal counsel.