If you are a retiree, you likely have heard many claims made about probate problems. The word itself may even fill you with dread. If you are planning your estate, there are some things you should consider concerning probate. In this, as in all things, it is important to take a balanced approach. Let's review some of the issues pertaining to probate. Then you can decide if you need to approach your estate planning differently.
What is the purpose of probate?
You have heard this word many times, but may never have considered what it means. In legal terms, probate is the period of time during which a will is proven authentic or valid. The purpose of probate is to distribute an estate according to the decedent's wishes described in his or her will. Typically, the first step of probate is to use the person's probate assets and property to pay all debts. After that, any remaining assets and property are distributed to persons named in the will. There may be costs associated with the probate process.
Probate ensures that your wishes for the distribution of your estate are carried out upon your death. Probate is a public process. If your estate is of any size, your heirs could suddenly have new friends trying to advise them on how to manage their newly inherited assets.
People often assume all assets are subject to probate, which raises the following question.
Are all assets subject to probate?
No. Some assets are excluded from probate. An example would be assets that are held in joint ownership with rights of survivorship, such as your personal home. Other assets not subject to probate are those governed by a beneficiary designation. This would include assets such as your 401(k), IRAs, life insurance policies, and annuities. Additionally, assets held in a trust are not subject to probate. If the majority of your estate assets are held in accounts of this type, you may not have that much to be concerned about.
What about my brokerage and bank accounts?
These types of accounts can be set up to transfer on death (TOD) to a beneficiary. This designation allows you to pass securities and banking accounts directly to another person (your TOD beneficiary) upon your death without having to go through probate. By setting your accounts up this way, the executor or administrator of your estate will not have to take any action to ensure that your accounts transfer to the person you have designated. The TOD beneficiaries will have to take steps to retitle the accounts in their name, but this is not a very cumbersome process.
As you can see, probate may not be as bad as you have heard. There are many things to consider during the estate planning process.
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