Many clients I talk to know that they want to avoid probate but they are usually not sure exactly why. Probate is the legal process to administer assets owned by someone who has died, to see that claims and expenses are paid, and to see that the remaining assets are distributed to those entitled to receive it either through a Last Will or under the Ohio Revised Code. To clear up a common misperception, there is nothing inherently wrong with probate. There are several important reasons why avoiding probate, to the greatest extent possible, is advisable in many cases:
- Money Opening an estate in probate court requires a filing fee and usually requires an attorney. Additional experts, such as appraisers, are often required.
- Time Depending on the complexity of the estate and the amount (and type) of assets, the probate process can often take 6-9 months to complete. Or even longer.
- Privacy Court filings, including probate court records, are public records. Probate requires filing a detailed inventory of assets and later, a full accounting of who gets what, when, and how. In Hamilton County, Ohio, the records are mostly available on the Court’s website (see https://www.probatect.org/court-records/court-record-search). Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with this, but I find most clients prefer to keep their affairs private when possible.
HOW TO AVOID PROBATE
The next issue is then how to avoid probate. There is no one size fits all solution. Each family has unique issues and needs. Some of the options include:
- Living Trust A revocable living trust is a legal entity that owns the assets of the creator (called the grantor). The grantor names a trustee to control the assets that will go to the beneficiaries. A trust is a private entity that includes specific instructions on how to distribute the trust’s assets and avoids probate on all trust assets. For more information on the differences between a trust and a will, see https://www.danmccarthylaw.com/2017-12-6-understanding-the-difference-between-a-will-and-a-living-trust/
- Jointly Owned Assets Assets owned with another who have the right of survivorship pass automatically and are not subject to probate. For example, if a married couple jointly own a home, upon the death of the first spouse, the survivor becomes the sole owner by right of survivorship. Note that simply adding heirs, including children, to your assets is generally not advised for tax, liability, and numerous other reasons.
- Transfer on Death (TOD) It is possible to transfer certain assets, including real estate and vehicles, by completing transfer on death designations. If done properly, those assets with a TOD can pass by that designation outside of probate.
- Payable on Death (POD) Similar to a TOD, POD bank accounts and certain assets can list a beneficiary to receive that particular asset upon death.
- Beneficiary Designations Other assets, such as life insurance, pass by beneficiary designation, not by probate.
An estate plan is much more than a simple will. In order to properly plan for your family, you must coordinate your assets and your documents. I can help ensure that you have the necessary documents to avoid probate where possible and will help provide peace of mind. Please call, text, or email to get started today.