The probate process is notoriously taxing for any family that must experience it. The goal of probate is to settle the affairs of a deceased individual legally, meaning determining ownership rights over their remaining property as well as responsibility for their remaining debts. Probate occurs when the deceased did not have a formal plan in place for handling their end-of-life affairs.
If you are making your plans for the future and want to spare your loved ones the difficulty and stress of the probate process, there are a few steps you can take to reduce uncertainty and ensure your legacy unfolds according to your wishes. An estate planning attorney can help you explore your options for helping your family avoid probate.
Create a Revocable Trust
A trust is a special legal document that officially transfers ownership rights of the property and assets listed in the trust to a trustee. This trustee will retain ownership rights of the contents of the trust in the event of your death. It’s also possible to list multiple beneficiaries of your property as well as careful distinctions as to who will receive which pieces of property. A revocable trust allows you to revoke the trustee’s rights at any time prior to your death, so you have peace of mind knowing you can adjust your trust as you see fit as long as you live.
Name Specific Beneficiaries
Many insurance policies and investments allow you to name beneficiaries who will assume ownership over their designated accounts in the event of your death. Pay close attention to all of the paperwork you complete whenever you open any kind of banking account or new investment portfolio. Name beneficiaries as you see fit. However, it’s vital to remember that if you ever develop a more comprehensive document such as a trust, will, or estate plan, the beneficiaries you name within this document should align with those you have already named on individual accounts.
Inconsistency between beneficiaries named on end-of-life documents and those named on specific policies is one of the most common causes of conflict during the probate process. By working with an experienced estate attorney, you can develop an end-of-life plan that takes your pre-existing beneficiary designations into account to avoid these conflicts. For example, if you have an ex-spouse named as a beneficiary on an account you opened years ago but have remarried recently, it’s a good idea to have an attorney. A lawyer will help you designate your current spouse as the new beneficiary for that account.
When it comes to designating beneficiaries, an estate plan can essentially allow you to designate how you would like ownership of your property and assets to transfer upon your death down to the last detail. An experienced estate attorney will help you be as specific as possible in determining inheritance rights, including disclaimers, exclusionary clauses, and special rules intended to protect the interest of beneficiaries who are minors.
Establish Joint Ownership
Joint ownership can clarify much of the probate process for a family. If a deceased individual has joint ownership over a piece of property or an asset like a bank account, ownership simply transfers to the co-owners sole ownership. Joint ownership is most common to appear when a married person dies; their spouse typically assumes ownership over all of the property and assets under their joint ownership and other property rights if the deceased provided specific instructions via a will, trust, or estate plan.
Why Do I Need to Avoid Probate?
Probate comes into play to settle legal questions of property ownership when a person dies without end-of-life instructions in place. Ultimately, it is always best to avoid probate simply because it spares your loved ones significant time, stress, and money on legal fees to complete the probate process under state law. Leaving formal instructions behind eliminates uncertainty and ensures your wishes are respected when it comes to how you would prefer to distribute your property to your beneficiaries after your death.
The probate process has a legal duty to respect the wishes of a deceased individual at the center of a probate case. It’s possible for end-of-life documents such as wills, trusts, and estate plans to come into play in probate proceedings if those documents do not answer all of the questions that require answering for the legal transfer of ownership to occur after the death. However, simply having one of these documents in place can significantly expedite the probate process.
If you need to make plans for the transfer of ownership of your property after you die, meet with an estate attorney as soon as possible. The sooner you record your last wishes and preferences for distribution of your property into an official, enforceable document, the sooner you can have peace of mind about your end-of-life affairs. Contact the Bochnewich Law Offices to schedule a consultation with an experienced California estate attorney.