Owning Assets Jointly Assets that are owned jointly by you and at least one other person generally do not pass through probate upon your death. Instead, these assets will pass automatically to the surviving co-owner(s) upon your death. For example, if you and your spouse own your house jointly, when you pass away your spouse will automatically become the sole owner of 100% of the property. Please be aware, however, that naming a joint owner on your assets subjects your assets to the joint owner's creditors. This may not be much of a concern when naming a spouse as a joint owner, but could be a larger issue if naming children or other beneficiaries as joint owners. Owning Assets with Beneficiary Designations Any assets that are instructed to pass pursuant to a specific beneficiary designation will likewise not be required to pass through probate. The most common types of assets with beneficiary designations are life insurance policies and retirement accounts. So long as you complete the beneficiary designations on these assets prior to your death (ex. spouse as primary beneficiary and kids as alternate beneficiaries), these assets will simply pass in accordance with your designation. In addition to life insurance policies and retirement accounts, most other financial accounts also permit the naming of a beneficiary. This means you could name a beneficiary on your checking and savings accounts at your bank, or on any investment and brokerage accounts. Owning Assets in Trust Trusts can serve numerous estate planning purposes, but one of the primary ones is probate avoidance. Any assets that are owned in a trust at the time of your death will not need to pass through probate. Some people get nervous about the idea of transferring their assets into a trust for fear that they will lose the ability to control those assets. These fears can be addressed, however, by naming yourself as the trustee of the trust. This will ensure that while the assets will not be deemed to be owned by you for probate purposes, you will still have full access and control over the assets during your lifetime. Be Aware of Estate Tax Return Filing Requirements Even if you use the tools above to ensure none of your assets will pass through probate upon your death, be aware that you may still have to interact with the probate court. Firstly, in CT if you have a valid Will in effect at the time of your death, your executor is required by law to submit the Will to the probate court. Second, all estates are required to file an estate tax return. This is true even if 100% of your assets are passing outside of probate. The filing of the estate tax return is especially important if you owned an interest in real estate (joint or otherwise) at the time of your death. The state places automatic "inchoate" liens on all real estate owned by a decedent for potential estate taxes and probate fees owed by the decedent's estate. Your beneficiaries will not be able to sell the property following your death unless they obtain a release of these liens from the probate court. The only way to obtain the releases is to file the estate tax return and to pay any probate fees due to the court. Once this is done, the court will issue the releases which must then be recorded on the land records. So while you can ensure that the ownership of your house will not need to pass through probate, your executor will still need to interact with the court (albeit to a limited extent) in order to make sure your beneficiaries receive the house free and clear. As an aside, while there is a requirement to file an estate tax return, the likelihood of your estate owing any taxes is extremely low. The current estate tax exemption in CT for 2019 is $3.6 million (i.e. if you own less than $3.6 million in assets, no tax is due), and this exemption is scheduled to increase over the next few years until it reaches over $11 million in 2023. Probate Is Not All Bad Probate gets a bad reputation, namely due to the fact that it takes a long time and the court charges you a fee for the "privilege" of having your assets pass through the court system. However, at the end of the day, the sole purpose of probate is to ensure your assets pass to your loved ones in accordance with your instructions. They may have to wait a period of time before receiving their inheritance outright, but it still passes to them just like you wanted. Probate court also provides a venue for resolution of any disputes that may arise between beneficiaries and your executor. So just keep in mind that if your assets do end up having to pass through probate, it is not the end of the world.