McDonald Warner - Probate, Elder Law, & Special Needs

3 ways to prevent your estate from going to probate

Planning for the future is an important but stressful endeavor. You want to be sure that your loved ones are cared for, but nobody wants to think about what will happen after they pass. Perhaps this is why, according to AARP, only 40 percent of American adults have started estate planning. If you do not plan your estate, though, your family will likely have to go through probate court, which can be difficult.

Probate court is dedicated to handling the property and assets of a decedent. It is typically necessary if there is no will or estate plan in place to dictate division and distribution of the property. The following are three ways to effectively prevent your estate from going to probate court:

Draft a living trust

A living trust is one of the most effective ways to prevent your estate from going into probate. A living trust functions by placing all assets under the management of a trustee who then distributes the assets to beneficiaries. Probate court is obsolete in such a case because a person's property has technically already been distributed to the trust, so no division of assets is necessary. 

Joint ownership

Alternately, if you intend to leave all of your property and assets to a single person or several people, you can transfer these assets into their names so that they are the legal owners upon your death. Joint ownership is a great option for assets such as a house, a car or investments. Adding your beneficiaries as owners can allow you to circumvent probate because, much like a living trust, distribution is unnecessary.

Name beneficiaries

You might also consider adding beneficiaries' names to accounts that hold your assets. If you have a retirement account, for example, adding beneficiaries' names can allow the account's value to be transferred to them at a later date. You can do this by making the accounts payable on death, which is also a good option for 401k accounts, IRAs and investments.

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