Probate is complicated, nitpicky, and messy.
Of course, it’s what you might expect out of a legal process that determines the transfer of assets. As soon as the courts get involved, that’s when the nightmare begins. It also subjects your assets to unnecessary publicity and liability — including liability for that pesky Medicaid lien.
But the good news is that when your estate is well-planned with the help of a talented estate lawyer, you can bypass the probate process entirely.
So how do you avoid probate?
It depends on what type of assets you’re leaving!
- Life insurance? Make sure there are beneficiaries.
- Retirement funds? Make sure there are beneficiaries.
Almost anything else is better off in a trust. A trust lets you control the asset while living, but it can pass off smoothly after your death.
But probate? Probate is not smooth.
So that raises the question…
How do you get your stuff in a trust?
To place your assets in a trust, you basically need to change the title.
- A bank will sometimes let you add your trust to an existing account
- For real estate, you need to deed the property to the trust
- Personal property (physical items besides real estate) requires a written assignment
- Investment accounts must have their title changed — often, this will require opening new accounts titled to the trust
But when it comes to stock and bond certificates, they’re more complicated to transfer to trusts, still less complicated than probate, though.
If you have savings bonds, you can send them to TreasuryDirect with instructions on how to retitle them. You will then get a notice that you have an account at TreasuryDirect that is titled to your trust.
Other Wealth Transfer Options
So what about joint ownership? This option can avoid the legal nightmare that is probate, but keep in mind that the assets will still wind up in probate when the last person dies. If you don’t mind that, this can be an option.
Transfer-on-death designations can work, but much like joint ownership, you run into problems if the person you name dies. And what happens then? You guessed it! Probate.
So now you know some effective ways to keep your assets out of court. Maybe you’ve even implemented a plan of your own!
But how do you make sure that the plan will work as your life changes and after you pass away?
Maintain an Updated Estate Plan
Even the most thorough estate plan won’t protect you if it doesn’t accurately reflect the current state of your assets. If your life changes but your estate plan doesn’t, your estate is at risk of passing into probate.
So any time major life changes occur, it’s important to consult your estate planning attorney to update your plans and ensure things go smoothly when it’s time to transfer your wealth.
Some changes that merit updating an existing estate plan include:
- Marriage or a new relationship
- Divorce or the ending of a relationship
- A new arrival in the family by birth or adoption
- Relocation – especially if you change states
- A death in the family, or Inheritance
- Changing jobs
- Acquisition of new property, investments, or accounts
- Diagnosis of serious medical condition
- Passage of time – children grow up, friends drift away, you grow older and need more help
Don’t want to have to look for another attorney whenever these things happen? With our Annual Maintenance Program, you’ll always have an estate planning attorney available. We keep backup copies of your documents and up-to-date records on how your assets are titled.
But thankfully, it’s entirely possible to bypass probate. This protects your loved ones’ finances and helps reduce costs and inconveniences as your estate is disbursed.
However, avoiding probate happens only with careful planning. For ultimate peace of mind, work with the best estate planning lawyers in Massachusetts. Deland Law Office is an estate planning law firm in Holliston, Massachusetts. To learn more about how we can help arrange your estate to avoid probate, call (508) 429-8888 or visit us on the web at www.jenniferdelandlaw.com.