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How to avoid probate and help your inheritors

A guide to preventing unnecessary complications

What is probate?

Probate is the legal process for handling a deceased person’s affairs. The exact method will depend on your state's laws, but every probate follows certain basic steps.
  • Validate your will
  • Identify, protect, and appraise your property and assets
  • Pay any debts, taxes, or liens that you owe
  • Distribute remaining assets as described your will

What happens if I don’t have a will?

The probate still follows the same process, accounting for any differences in state law. However, friends and charities won’t receive any bequests you may have wanted.

How can probate go wrong?

Most probate problems arise from mistakes or miscommunication. Incomplete or inaccurate information must be corrected, which can make the process take longer. This is especially true if the mishap involved inheritors or debtors. The best way to avoid problems during probate is to ensure your wishes will be clearly communicated, and all state requirements followed.

Can I avoid probate?

There are a few ways you can help your inheritors avoid probate.
  • Name your beneficiaries on all accounts including retirement and bank accounts
  • Create a living trust instead of a will
  • Hold property jointly and name right of survivorship
  • Give away property and assets before your death
However, remember that each state's laws vary. Some states have a simplified process for small estates, and an easy process for transferring property to a surviving spouse. If you’re not sure how to avoid probate, or how your will or estate plan would be handled, you can always discuss your concerns with an estate planning attorney.

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