Survivors often consider probate a nightmare because of the time and expense it takes to settle a deceased loved one’s estate. Unfortunately, depending on the size and preparation of the estate before the decedent’s passing, the rumors are mostly right. There is a reason that many estate lawyers push families and individuals to create wills or trusts because they know the legal difficulties that wait for those that don’t. Fortunately, not every estate will have to endure the lengthy and costly legal battles of probate, but the situations that don’t require it are few and far between and depend on two specific scenarios.
- Small Estates
While many people dream of lavish mansions and swimming in piles of gold coins, the truth is if you want to avoid the probate process, a smaller estate is best. Most states stipulate the size of estates that require probate and those that don’t. For example, California does not require estates of under $150,000 to go to court. Many municipalities understand that probate is a challenging and complicated process, which is most likely unnecessary for small estates.
- Outside Property Transfers
Another thing to consider is that not all property is required to go through probate. There are instances of joint assets or other forms of property transfers, which immediately transfer to other parties at the time of death. There are at least three ways of transferring property that avoid the probate process entirely.
- Joint Property
When a property is owned jointly and designated with the right of survivorship, the survivor can avoid probate court. This tends to happen in one of three ways: community property, joint tenancy or tenancy by entirety. Community property relates to holding owned by a married couple, but not every state recognizes joint ownership. Joint tenancy refers to people living together and sharing the costs of the residence, and upon one of their deaths, the other takes over the decedent’s share. Last, tenancy by entirety works the same way as joint tenancy.
A designated beneficiary can avoid probate court as well because the distribution of specific assets was determined before the decedent’s death. Therefore, property transfers immediately upon death, unless otherwise challenged.
Trusts allow the decedent to take care of their loved ones in both life and death. There are three forms of trusts: revocable, irrevocable and charitable. Each allows survivors to avoid probate. Revocable can be changed during the decedent’s lifetime. Irrevocable cannot be altered, and charitable provides a lifetime income for beneficiaries with the remainder going to charity.
Probate court is a hassle, but there are ways to avoid it. If you are concerned about your loved one’s having to deal with a long and costly legal battle, find an estate attorney today.