Setting up an estate plan ensures that your wishes are followed and that your heirs are taken care of after your passing. Save your family from hassle and unnecessary legal fees by taking steps to protect your estate.
Unless you're an attorney, there's nothing good about probate. Briefly, probate is a legal process where the validity of a decedent's will is established. Probate court is where heirs go when there's a dispute over an estate or will.
Chances are you've heard about probate problems facing many American families. Just how expensive is probate? It varies by state. It costs more than $90,000 to probate a $2 million estate in California (more than $80,000 of which goes to attorney's fees and executor's fees) and as little as $6000 in Washington State.For Californians whom own homes – many of which are valued near or surpass $2 million – this hypothetical math could be your new reality.
It's unfortunate that a will can't protect your assets from probate. Probate involves months of planning, filling out forms and the need to meet procedural requirements, all the while racking up legal and maintenance fees that may reach into thousands of dollars.
Here are three things you can do to keep your estate from going through probate:
1. Set up a Living Trust
One great way to avoid probate is to set up a revocable living trust. Moving your assets into a revocable living trust is straightforward. Although the trust is revocable, the legal owner which is you still call all the shots and live off the trust's largesse.
A living trust is an invaluable estate-planning tool. Its benefits include allowing you to pass assets to your heir without probate. It allows your heir to avoid probate entirely because your assets are already distributed to the trust.
2. Use Joint Ownership
Adding a joint owner to the deed for real estate will help you avoid probate. If you're married, some states or counties will allow you to own property with rights of survivorship allowing you or your spouse to avoid probate.
If one joint tenant dies, the asset will be transferred to the surviving joint tenant. The transfer of assets is accomplished through registering the death certificate concerning the death with a state recorder's office where the property is located.
Under the California Civil Code, the right of survivorship applies to both personal property and real property. With the right of survivorship, a will does not control the distribution of property and no probate is required.
3. Use Beneficiary Designations
If you hold assets in a retirement account such as 401(k), IRA or annuity, then you're already taking steps to avoid probate through the use of beneficiary designations.
In most state, you can designate beneficiaries for your bank account (known as POD account or payable on death), you can also designate beneficiaries for your non-retirement account (Known as TOD account or transfer on death).
To get started, all you need to do is fill out payable on death forms provided by your bank or brokerage company. Keep in mind that if you're married that some of the accounts are partially owned by your spouse. However, by taking time to fill the forms ensures that the proceeds are transferred immediately upon death -- saving your spouse a ton time and legal expense.
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