Friday, November 28, 2014

What is Probate and Will it Affect My Inheritance?

What is probate is a fundamental question. Financial planners claim less than 20-percent of heirs and beneficiaries receive their intended inheritance. Funeral expenses, unpaid debts, estate taxes and legal fees can financially deplete the estate, leaving nothing for those left behind.

This article answers the "what is probate" question and provides tips and techniques to keep assets out of probate. Estates will process through the court system faster when fewer assets are involved.

Probate is the legal process used to validate decedents Last Will and Testament and tie up financial loose ends. The last will is the instrument used to convey final wishes and designate who should receive money, personal belongings, real estate and valuable items.

Numerous options exist for creating a Will. Preformatted Wills can be downloaded online or purchased at office supply stores. Complex estates generally require assistance from a probate attorney or professional estate planner. Much depends on the estate's net worth and how many heirs are entitled to assets.

An estate administrator is designated within the decedent's Will. This individual is responsible for a wide range of duties, so it is best to appoint someone who is good with finances and able to cope well under stress. This is of particular importance when family discord exists.

Probate begins when the decedent's death certificate is submitted to probate court. The estate administrator must create an inventory list of assets and obtain property appraisals for valuable assets such as real estate, collectibles, antiques, artwork and heirloom jewelry. Other duties include paying outstanding debts, filing a final tax return and distributing assets according to directives outlined within the Will. Most Administrators require assistance from an attorney or estate planner.

The process of probate typically takes six to nine months to settle. This can be financially challenging for estates with business or real estate holdings. The estate is responsible for maintaining real estate properties and managing business entities. If the estate does not possess the financial means to maintain property or handle business affairs, the court can order these assets to be sold.

Probate provides a stage for disgruntled heirs to contest the last will. When family members are disinherited or do not receive assets they believe are rightfully theirs, they can file a petition through the court.

The plaintiff is responsible for legal fees. The estate must reimburse legal fees if the court rules in favor of the plaintiff. When Wills are contested probate can drag on for years and potentially bankrupt the estate. In most instances when Wills are the contested, the only people who win are the attorneys.
Estate assets can be exempted from probate by establishing a trust. A variety of types exist and most can be customized to suit the needs of the estate. Trusts are typically reserved for estates valued over $100,000.

Smaller estate can utilize various techniques to keep assets out of probate. These include establishing transfer on death (TOD) and payable on death (POD) beneficiaries. TOD is used with investment and retirement accounts, while POD is used for checking and savings accounts.

TOD and POD assignments can be made by filling out a simple form through the financial institution where accounts are held. Financial assets avoid probate through the assignment of beneficiaries.
Real estate can avoid undergoing the process of probate by titling the property as 'Tenants in Common' or 'Joint Tenancy'.

Titled property such as automobiles, motorcycles, boats and airplanes can be jointly titled and transferred to the name beneficiary upon death without passing through probate.

Another option to avoid probate is to give assets to loved ones while you are still alive. The IRS allows cash gifts of up to $10,000 per person or $20,000 per married couple, per year. This option is oftentimes attractive to individuals with chronic or terminal illness.

Probate can be an overwhelming and time-consuming task. By taking time now to execute a last will and testament and taking action to keep assets out of probate, you can rest assured knowing your loved ones will receive the inheritance you wish to leave them.

Simon Volkov is a real estate investor and probate liquidator who helps heirs understand what is probate and how to avoid it. Simon engages in buying inheritance assets to ease financial burdens of estates with limited finances. If you need to sell estate assets or need additional information about probate, visit
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