What Is Probate and Do I Want to Avoid It?

What Is Probate and Do I Want to Avoid It?

Probate is a process used to identify and gather the assets of a deceased person, or decedent. This process is court-supervised and used to pay the decedent’s debts or distribute the assets to beneficiaries. The assets are typically used to pay the cost of the probate proceeding before being applied to debts. The remainder, if there is any, gets distributed to beneficiaries.

Not all probate proceedings are so complex that they need be avoided.  However, probate proceedings can be long, expensive and confusing for the decedent’s family. In Florida there are steps you can take to avoid the process altogether. One of the most common options used to avoid probate proceedings is the establishment of a living trust. This involves creating a trust document and naming the person you want to take over as successor trustee after your death. This person can transfer your assets to your trust’s beneficiaries after your death. Don’t forget that when you create this document, you must first transfer ownership of your property to yourself as trustee. Just preparing a trust document will not necessarily avoid probate, which is why it is important to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to help you with your estate plan.

Another way to avoid probate proceedings involves establishing joint ownership of property with another person. If this joint ownership includes the right of survivorship, the surviving owner takes over the property when the other owner dies. Establishing joint ownership helps eliminate the need for probate, although a fair amount of paperwork is necessary to show the surviving owner holds the property’s title. However, sometimes, setting up joint ownership creates unintended ownership or tax problems. So, even when considering using joint ownership in your estate plan, you should consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to help.

Payable-on-death bank account designations are another option. In Florida, you can add this designation to savings accounts or certificates of deposit. Using this method, the designated person can claim the money directly from the bank after your death, avoiding probate. You might also consider adding a transfer-on-death registration for your stocks and bonds.

If you simply cannot avoid probate proceedings, your estate might quality for a simplified small estate procedure, depending on your circumstances. To learn more about this process and to discuss your options, call an experienced estate planning attorney in Tampa.