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Can you avoid the probate process?

Probate processes can be time consuming and expensive, especially when a dispute arises about a will. Probate is also a matter of public record, which isn't something everyone wants -- you might want to keep some information about your assets and your heirs out of the record, and you can do that. While you can't always avoid probate completely -- your estate itself will likely undergo the process -- you can keep certain assets out of probate.

By placing certain assets in a revocable living trust, you could avoid many probate issues. You can use the trust to distribute assets to family members or others both during and after your lifetime, and you might even be able to put the bulk of your property in the trust for almost no reliance on the probate process. This can become a complex task that has to be handled perfectly to reduce the risks of problems, which is why working with an experienced estate lawyer is a good idea.

Another way to keep some assets out of probate is to hold them in accounts that transfer upon death without requiring any action in probate. For example, life insurance policies and many IRA or investment accounts can be set up with a pay-on-death beneficiary. That means when you pass away, the accounts are transferred to the ownership of the beneficiary. You do still need someone executing your estate who can provide the death certificate to kick off the transfer process.

Joint tenancy creates the same type of benefits. This is a property that is owned with another person and transfers directly to the surviving owner. Examples of items that can be held in joint tenancy include homes and checking accounts, and this is something that is common when spouses own assets together.

Source: Nerd Wallet, "5 Smart Estate-Planning Steps to Avoid Probate," accessed Oct. 07, 2016

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