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Probate, Estate and Trust Administration

If you care at all about the future disposition of your estate, the thought of probate is likely to strike fear into your heart. People who die intestate have no way to avoid it, but if you think that an airtight will is the answer, it’s time to think again. The attorneys at Heffel Law Firm know that unless you take steps now to steer clear of probate court, you’ll be heading there either way.

Why Probate Exists

The probate process is the government’s solution for disposing of your assets in what it deems to be the fairest way: at the court’s discretion. The proceedings start when the attorney in charge of your estate submits your will to surrogate’s court for validation. Among other things, this often-convoluted course of action involves obtaining the consent of everyone who stands in line to inherit from you.

That is where the problems can start. These rightful heirs must validate your will regardless of whether it does or does not name them as beneficiaries, and this requirement gives a disinherited or otherwise shortchanged heir the chance to throw in a serious monkey wrench. Rather than validate the will, he or she may very well opt to contest it entirely. If that does happen, things can turn ugly in a hurry.

There are four areas in which a contested probate can get particularly messy. These include:

  • The cost. In addition to standard filing charges, your estate will now be responsible for covering attorney’s fees and applicable commissions. In a contested probate, legal costs can reach an extraordinary level.
  • The delay. Probating even the smallest estate can take up to two years, and a contest will stretch it out even further. In some cases, a contested probate can drag on for up to a decade.
  • The lack of control. During the probate process, the distribution of your assets must bow to the discretion of a judge who is most likely unrelated to you and knows nothing of your family. The heirs he deems eligible to benefit from your will might not be the ones you would have chosen.
  • The airing of dirty laundry. As your contested probate proceeds through the courts, the specifics of your assets and family dynamic could become public. If you’re famous or even marginally well-known in your local area, they might even make the papers.

Fortunately, there are ways of avoiding the probate mess entirely. The trick is in the planning: trust-based estate planning, that is, and Heffel Law Firm can help you do it.

The Trust as a Means of Avoiding Probate

A living trust bypasses probate by allowing you to transfer ownership of your assets to a trustee. It also names a successor trustee to take possession of these holdings after your death and distribute them directly to your chosen beneficiaries. The trust outperforms the standard will and testament in several ways. For one thing, it does not force you to create a conservatorship or power of attorney. For another, it provides you with a convenient way of giving gifts while you’re still alive.

Perhaps most important, though, is the privacy component. Whereas a will is a matter of public record, a living trust allows you to keep your affairs to yourself.

How Revocable Living Trusts Work

A revocable trust consists of an agreement between a grantor, a trustee and a beneficiary, all of whom are normally one and the same. After completing and signing the paperwork, the grantor funds the trust through a transfer of his or her most valuable assets. These can consist of such things as:

  • Real properties.
  • Life insurance.
  • Stocks and bonds.
  • Rare collections.
  • Antiques and works of art.
  • Annuities.
  • Bank, retirement and brokerage accounts.

Since the grantor in this scenario wears all the hats, he will also act as trustee of this living trust, managing, spending and investing its assets for the good of himself and of those whom he has named as beneficiaries.

After the transfer, the grantor’s assets no longer reside in his name. They now belong only to the revocable living trust, and for this reason, there will be no need to involve a probate court in conveying them to others after the grantor has died. The distribution honors go instead to the successor trustee as named in the agreement.

In most cases, taking steps to place your assets in a living trust while you are still alive will help you avoid probate after your death. For more information about revocable living trusts and estate administration in general, contact Heffel Law Firm today.

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