Last week I wrote about the question I get at every meeting (What is Probate?). Once we’re done discussing probate, the follow-up question is always
How Do I Avoid Probate?
There are a variety of planning mechanisms that can be used to avoid probate. Some examples include
- Revocable Living Trusts
- Beneficiary Designations
- Joint Accounts & Property
- Assignments/Transfers of Interests
- Transfer on Death Deeds (aka Beneficiary Deeds)
- Pay on Death/Transfer on Death Designations
If you go to an online website, they will try to fit you into a one-size-fits-all category. They will sell you on one (or all) of the above options. But each person’s situation, like a snowflake, is unique. Rather than just mail merging your information to all of the above-documents, you should speak to an attorney. This is also a good discussion to have with your financial planner too.
Should I Avoid Probate?
Before being overly concerned about avoiding probate, you should determine whether you need to avoid it or not. Probate can be a good thing where you have an estate that should be monitored. If there are creditors, then it gives them a defined cut-off date for their claims. If they fail to make a claim, they are time-barred from doing it later.
One of the main disadvantages to the process is the time and expense that can be involved. This is the primary pain point that people seek to avoid when creating an estate plan. There are also privacy concerns in states where the person’s will, estate, and beneficiaries become a matter of public record. For most people, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages and they want to avoid probate if possible.