Probate is the formal process of administering an estate under the supervision of the court. Probate often gets a bad rap for being lengthy, costly and unnecessary. While these things may be true in some cases, they can also be false in others.
Probate in and of itself is neither good nor bad. Its usefulness depends on your situation, so before you write it off, consider these times when going through probate may help you achieve a better outcome for your estate and its beneficiaries.
Clarifying the will
Under the best of circumstances, you will leave behind a complete and clear will. Family members may not like it, but it will be dispute-proof. However, if you have used a do-it-yourself form or do not update your will often, you can end up causing confusion or forgetting to include important provisions. Probate can validate the will and clarify its meaning to reduce the likelihood of family battles and make the executor’s job easier. In the meantime, review your will with an attorney to strengthen it.
Protecting against creditors
When you pass on, creditors may try to pursue repayment of debts from your estate or go after beneficiaries. Under probate law, creditors (except the federal government) have a short time limit in which to make a claim. If they do not, they forfeit the right to your assets.
Covering all assets
People often transfer assets to trusts to avoid probation and fees, but not all assets are transferable. Probate protects remaining assets and may even be more cost-effective than trusts for certain types of property. If you have a small estate, you may not require going through probate anyway. Probate also protects new income, such as the awards from a wrongful death lawsuit if you end up dying in an accident.
The bottom line is that probate offers more protection than you may have realized. If you are still unsure whether or not to avoid probate, speak to an estate planning attorney.