The probate office is where matters surrounding estate settlement, conservatorships, marriage licenses, name changes, and adoption occur. When a person passes away their estate agent files the last will and testament and death certificate through this office to obtain a case number.
Working with the probate office can be simplified by engaging in estate planning. In fact, with proper planning most estates can avoid probate altogether. It's recommended to consult with a probate lawyer or estate planner to ensure adequate protection of estate assets. However, it's helpful to conduct research to learn about the process and available options.
Probate has a lot of negativity surrounding it, but it really isn't that bad if final affairs are in order. Everybody needs to write a Will regardless of how much or little they own. The type of Will required depends on personal circumstances.
Writing a Will lets a person provide directives regarding the individual in charge of estate settlement; how the estate should be settled; and who receives inheritance property. When a person passes away without a Will their estate is settled in accordance with state probate law and property might not end up where it was intended to go.
While Wills provide directives, estate planning is necessary to protect inheritance property. In order to transfer property to another person, forms need to be filed to establish beneficiaries.
People that have money in checking or savings accounts can setup beneficiaries to receive funds upon death. This is one of the simplest, but most overlooked estate planning strategies. All that is required is to fill out a form at the bank listing the names, birthdates, address, and social security number for each beneficiary.
Money held in retirement accounts or financial portfolios can be gifted in a similar fashion. The difference is beneficiaries can elect to transfer funds into the same type of account in their own name. This is a good option for people that want to avoid inheritance taxes. Beneficiaries can also elect to cash-out the accounts, but funds will be subjected to taxation.
Titled property can be gifted by setting up joint titles. It's important to obtain legal advice regarding beneficiaries of titled property. Each state governs the type of title required, so it's wise to determine proper protocol; especially if beneficiaries reside in another state.
Estate agents are required to file specific documents through the probate office at various stages of the probate process. The process varies by state, as well as estate value and types of assets involved.
Small estates are often exempt from probate as long as a last will and testament is filed through the office. Exemption values vary by state, but exempt estates usually undergo a confirmation period before inheritance property is distributed to heirs.
Once assets are transferred, estate agents file proof of delivery to the court to close the case. The process can take as little as 6 weeks to several months. If family disputes over inheritance occur, probate can be prolonged for years.
Wills are recorded through the probate office and become a matter of public record. The only way to keep Wills out of the public eye is to setup a trust. When property is transferred to a trust it is no longer part of the estate and therefore avoids probate.
We invite you to learn more about Wills, trusts, and probate in our estate planning article library. While we don't offer legal advice, we provide resources to help visitors learn about available options and ways to avoid having the estate pass through the probate office.
Published on October 01, 2011 at 03:51 AM