If you have been thinking about your estate plans and find yourself concerned that your entire estate could be stuck in the probate process for an unacceptable length of time after your death, your concerns have merit.
While necessary in many instances after someone passes away in Fort Myers, the probate process is a time-consuming and costly process. If you’d prefer that less of your estate’s value be spent on distributing your assets so more money can go to your rightful heirs and beneficiaries, there are steps that you can take to avoid probate. Barbara M. Pizzolato, P.A. can help you to find ways to ensure your assets transfer in at timely and cost effective way by transferring outside of probate.
Steps to Avoid the Probate Process
If you hope to avoid probate, there are a few key steps you may wish to take.
- Convert IRAs and other accounts so that they payout to beneficiaries immediately after you die. Unless you take steps to make it possible for these assets to transfer automatically, the assets will have to pass through probate. Fortunately, you can specify that the accounts should pay on death by filling out and signing a form naming a beneficiary who the money will automatically transfer to when you pass away. You can use this same transfer method to transfer certain other assets as well. For example, you can set up your vehicle registration to transfer to a designated beneficiary when you pass away.
- Use a Revocable Living Trust. This type of living trust makes it possible for assets to transfer to named beneficiaries through the trust administration process, rather than through the probate process. You can continue to control trust assets during your life, and you can name a backup trustee to facilitate trust administration after your death.
- Use joint ownership to transfer assets. By having your assets titled in a way that provides for automatic transfer upon death, those assets will transfer outside of probate. There are different kinds of joint ownership which could work for you including
- Joint tenancy with rights of survivorship. This simple arrangement allows both parties to hold joint ownership of property during their lives. When one of the co-owners dies, the other owner(s) receives sole ownership of the assets.
- Tenancy by the entirety. This option is available only to married couples. It ensures that spousal assets go directly to the surviving member of the marriage when one of the spouses dies.
- Give inter vivos gifts (gifts during your lifetime). If you have assets in storage, money that you’ve set aside to give to your children when you pass away, or other items and properties you intend to provide as an inheritance for your loved ones, you can avoid probate by dispensing with those assets while you are still alive. This enables you to ensure that your last wishes are enforced exactly as you wish. This option can also provide needed assistance to your family members. Moreover, you can enjoy the opportunity to see the results of your giving! As with other probate avoidance techniques, however, gifting can be a challenge. Gifts over a certain amount can be taxable, so this option is best used for smaller estate assets of lesser value. In addition, it can sometimes be difficult for seniors to determine what they can afford to give away in life without putting themselves in need, particularly when they also have to deal with high nursing home costs and other expenses.
Depending on the size of your estate, the value of the assets you need to disperse, and the types of property you’re dealing with, you may also have other options available as well.
Get the Help You Need to Avoid Probate
No matter the size of your estate, you likely want to avoid having its value reduced by the costs associated with probate. You probably don’t relish the thought of having your assets tied up in court months after you’ve passed away either – especially if you’re leaving behind spouses, children, or handicapped beneficiaries who may need those assets right away.
Barbara M. Pizzolato, P.A. can help you to ensure you and your family won’t have to worry about losing assets or long delays in asset transfers due to probate. If you live in or around Fort Myers, we can work with you to create a comprehensive probate avoidance process. Give us a call today to speak with a member of our legal team and to learn more about the assistance that we offer.