You could assume that the personal representative that you name in your last will would be able to distribute assets to the inheritors shortly after you pass away. In reality, things do not work in this manner. The executor is not allowed to act independently.
If you use a last will as your asset transfer vehicle, after you pass away, the will would be admitted to probate (unless the estate is comprised of very limited assets). During this process, the court would supervise the administration of the estate.
The inheritors would not receive their inheritances until after the estate was closed by the court. Exactly how long the process will take will depend upon the circumstances. A general estimate would be somewhere in the vicinity of six months to a year if the case is relatively simple and straightforward.
This can be a long time to wait for an inheritance, especially if you were depending on the decedent for financial support.
The time consumption is one of the drawbacks of probate, but there are others. Probate is a public proceeding, so interested parties could access probate records to find out what went on during the process. This loss of privacy can be disconcerting.
Another drawback is the matter of money. There are a number of different expenses that can accumulate during probate. The court charges a filing fee, and the personal representative is entitled to payment. Legal fees will typically enter the picture, and an accountant can be retained as well, because final taxes must be paid during probate. When you mix in appraisal costs, liquidation expenses, and other incidental expenditures, a significant amount of money can be lost during the probate process.
There are some types of asset transfers that would not be subject to the probate process. If you have a payable on death account, the beneficiary would assume ownership of the remainder in the account after your passing free of the probate process.
Life insurance proceeds are not subject to probate, and property that is held in joint tenancy can be transferred in a probate-free manner.
You could also be proactive about the utilization of a probate avoidance tool like a revocable living trust. Assets that are conveyed into a revocable living trust can be distributed among the beneficiaries outside of probate.
Attend a Free Workshop
If you would like to learn about the steps that you can take to provide for your loved ones in the optimal manner, attend one of our estate planning workshops. We offer these information sessions on an ongoing basis, and they are absolutely free to attend, but we do ask that you register in advance.
Click the following link to see the schedule: Free Estate Planning Workshops.