When a loved one passes away with just a will, or no estate plan at all, his/her family have to put the estate through a process called “probate.” Probate is the court-managed proceeding where assets are retitled and distributed according to the will or the law of intestacy (when you pass away without a will). While most of our clients set up their estate via a living trust, which avoids this process entirely, the majority of estates will have to go through probate.
We are often asked to help families go through this process, and we meet a lot of new clients for the first time helping them with the estate of recently deceased family members. Most of those families choose to do comprehensive planning with our law firm after having gone through the probate process once with a loved one.
No two probates are ever the same, but all of them involve locating the Will and/or making a filing with the probate court. Once the Will has been accepted, a Personal Representative is appointed. After that, all of the heirs need to be mailed a formal written notice, where they will have the opportunity to review the Will and make any appropriate challenges or contests.
Then the assets have to be gathered, debts and taxes have to be paid, and only then can assets can be distributed in accordance with the Will or intestacy. While many assets will pass through probate, some assets, like life insurance and retirement accounts, will pass directly to the named beneficiary. Other kinds of assets, like those held in joint tenancy, will pass directly to the other joint tenant. The important thing to remember is that all of these assets are counted as “part of the estate” for purposes of calculating whether taxes are due and/or as part of any existing or future Medicaid applications. You should also know that estates over a certain threshold have to be probated, whether they are “taxable” or not.
As you can imagine, accomplishing all of this takes an enormous amount of time and can be extremely frustrating. When you factor in the grief that comes with the loss of a loved one, the process can seem overwhelming.
As your trusted advisor, we can help you navigate the process and settle the estate as quickly and economically as possible. We will lift the burden off your shoulders, so you can focus on what is most important—coming to terms with your loss and preparing to move on with your life.
If a loved one has recently passed away and you would like a confidential consultation to discuss the next steps, please contact our office to schedule an appointment.
Request a free one hour consultation on all estate planning matters.