At some point in your life, you may have heard about someone's estate being tied up in probate. It may have included awful stories involving relatives fighting over money or property to the point where family bonds were forever broken. The reality is that probate isn't always a grueling and emotional process. In fact, a lot of the process boils down to paperwork, signatures, deadlines, and months, or sometimes years, of waiting. However, it's still a process that most people would prefer to avoid because it can be expensive and time-consuming. Attorneys handling probate in Marietta often advise the following options to help people in our area avoid the process altogether to save time, money, and aggravation.
Create a Trust
Assets held in a trust do not have to through the process of probate in Cobb County. Instead, whoever you choose to manage your trust when you pass away will be able to distribute the assets in the trust privately and without being at the mercy of the probate court. Creating a trust is really the “gold standard” option for avoiding probate, but it's important to make sure that your assets are properly titled in the name of the trust. If not, they will go through the probate process as though the trust did not exist in the first place.
If your estate plan includes property, having a co-owner can help avoid having the asset tied up in probate. As long as it's properly documented, ownership of the property would go to the surviving co-owner if the other co-owner dies. In most states, you can have co-ownership of a property with your spouse that includes the right of survivorship. Under tenancy by the entirety, ownership of the property would go to the surviving spouse when one spouse dies. If you live in a community property state like Texas or Arizona, the surviving spouse automatically takes ownership of a property upon the death of the first spouse. In California, couples registered as domestic partners are also entitled to this type of joint ownership. For individuals who are not married, joint tenancy with right of survivorship can help you avoid probate. However, we do advise serious caution when considering this option with close friends, siblings, or other relatives.
In some situations, transferring the ownership of your property while you're still alive will help your loved ones avoid probate after you're gone. Giving away your property keeps it from being subjected to probate because it would no longer be considered your property. Just be sure to check with your estate planning attorney to determine whether or not the property would be subject to a gift tax or if gifting could have repercussions when it comes to applying for certain benefits with “look-back periods” like Medicaid or Veteran's Aid and Attendance.
When it comes to retirement accounts and bank accounts, avoiding probate in <insert city> can be done by converting them to payable-on-death accounts. This process is often as simple as filling out a form and choosing a beneficiary. Upon your death, these accounts would then be transferred to your named beneficiaries without having to go through probate. In some states, you also have this same option for vehicles and real estate properties.
If you're concerned about your loved ones having to deal with the process of going through probate, an estate planning attorney can review your assets and your property ownership then advise you on your best options for each. If you'd like guidance in getting started, contact our Marietta estate planning law firm at 770-425-6060 to schedule a consultation.