Friday, September 30, 2011

How to Avoid Probate Through Estate Planning and Assignment of Beneficiaries

Learning how to avoid probate can save heirs' time and money, prevent family disputes, and allow easy transfer of inheritance property upon death. Many people are not even familiar with probate let alone how to prevent it from occurring. Probate is required within all states of the U.S. to ensure decedent estates are settled according to inheritance laws. It is a time-consuming process that can take several months to complete.

Becoming educated about how to avoid probate is as simple as conducting research on the Internet or consulting with a family law attorney or estate planner. Many banks, credit unions, and financial advisors offer estate planning services for a nominal fee.

The only way to completely avoid the probate process is to transfer assets into a trust. However, trusts are generally reserved for individuals with assets valued over $100,000. Individuals with smaller estates can take measures to keep certain assets from undergoing the probate process.

One of the most important aspects of estate planning is executing a last will and testament, along with healthcare directives and designating Power of Attorney rights. POA allows a person to make decisions on your behalf if you are incapacitated and unable to make important decisions. Power of attorney rights also allow individuals to pay bills from your checking account, transfer titled property, and make legal decisions. Therefore, the person granted these powers should be someone whom can be trusted to make decisions based on your best interests.

Healthcare directives allow you to state what type of medical care you do or do not want. These can include being placed on life support, receiving nutritional support, organ donation, and do not rescesitate orders.

The Will is used to designate an estate administrator to handle all facets of estate management. Required duties vary depending on estate value, inheritance property, and family dynamics. Small probated estates can settle in three to six months. If heirs contest the Will, estate settlement can be prolonged until attorneys can work out acceptable agreements. Legal fees from contested Wills often bankrupt estates and leave nothing for heirs to inherit.

If people die without executing a legal will, the probate process takes longer. An estate administrator must be appointed through the court and additional work is required to locate heirs, inventory property, and other details which are normally included in the last will.

Individuals who hold bank accounts, retirement accounts, financial portfolios, and life insurance policies can assign beneficiaries to receive proceeds upon death. Beneficiary forms can be obtained through the financial institution where the account is held. Account holders can assign multiple beneficiaries and state the percentage of funds they will receive.

Beneficiaries must abide by each financial institution's policy regarding distribution of inheritance funds. Most states require beneficiaries to submit date-of-death value forms to the county tax assessor's office. As long as decedents are current with taxes, the Assessor's off will stamp the form so proceeds can be distributed.

Titled property can be kept out of probate by establishing joint ownership. When real estate or motor vehicles have joint titles, the property automatically transfers to the co-owner. When joint ownership is with a person other than your spouse, you might need to establish Joint Tenancy with Rights of Survivorship.

A lesser known way to avoid probate is through gifting inheritance property while you're still alive. The Internal Revenue Service allows gifting up to $12,000 per individual or $20,000 per married couple per year. If gifting limits exceed maximum level, recipients are required to file a federal gift tax return and pay appropriate inheritance taxes.

Implementing strategies to avoid probate is one of the best gifts you can leave loved ones. Regardless of how little or how much you own, it is important to put your affairs in order and execute a last will. Probate is not a fun process, so take measures to protect inheritance property and minimize the time required to settle your estate.

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