People often think the probate office is a scary place that is intimidating and overwhelming. In reality, it's simply a place where probated estates are settled and closed and last will and testaments and death certificates are recorded.
When Wills are presented to the probate office a case number is provided to the estate agent. If a person passes away without a Will, the estate is referred to as intestate and the death certificate is recorded to obtain a case number.
People often underestimate the need for writing a Will. Intestate estates can be difficult to deal with, especially while in the midst of grieving the loss of a loved one. The Will provides directives regarding who will be in charge of settling the estate and the people or organizations that are to receive estate assets.
The probate process can be prolonged for intestate estates or if family disputes over inheritance arise. If a person or company files claim against the estate, probate is prolonged until lawyers work out the issue. If heirs contest the Will, probate can be extended for several months or even years.
While writing a Will doesn't exempt the estate from claims individuals can include a 'no-contest' clause that prevents heirs from receiving any inheritance property if they contest the Will.
Wills can also include a 'disinheritance clause' that prevents heirs from receiving estate assets. This is usually a drastic measure that isn't used very often, but if severe family strife exists and a person does not want an heir to receive inheritance gifts they need to take action to protect estate assets.
It's best to obtain legal counsel or work with a professional estate planner to determine the best strategies for protecting estate assets. There are many methods that can be used to avoid probate and minimize estate and inheritance taxes.
Nearly every state exempts small estates from undergoing probate. The value range is typically between $25,000 and $50,000, but can be as much as $100,000. When an estate is valued at more than $100,000 it might be better to establish some sort of trust.
There are many types of trusts and each offers different advantages. Primary benefits of setting up a trust include eliminating the need for probate; quick distribution of inheritance property; and confidentiality of the last Will.
Probated Wills are a matter of public record. Anyone who wants to view them only needs to make a visit to the local court house or order a copy online. Private investors and probate liquidators frequent court houses to located probated estates.
It is not uncommon for estate agents to be forced into selling assets in order to pay off the decedent's outstanding debts. Probated property is usually auctioned off through the probate office. In some cases, property is sold directly through the estate agent.
Engaging in estate planning can eliminate nearly all challenges associated with probate. Titled property such as real estate and automobiles can be gifted to heirs by obtaining joint titles. Financial assets and investment portfolios can bypass probate by designating beneficiaries. Inheritance cash and property can be gifted prior to death.
Estate planning can eliminate the need for dealing with the probate office or minimize time spent there. While we don't offer legal advice, we do share an extensive estate planning article library to help visitors learn about available options. Topics include: probate, trusts, how to write a Will, estate and inheritance taxes, power of attorney forms, and health care directives.