Many people believe that having a valid will allows their estate to avoid probate. This is not the case. In fact, the probate process focuses on authenticating a decedent’s will (if there is one) and approving the named “personal representative” so that he or she can settle debts and distribute assets to beneficiaries.
I don’t mean to imply that wills are “bad.” A will can help ensure your wishes will be carried out after you pass away. It allows you to:
- Specify who receives your assets
- Name your personal representative (a person you trust to manage your estate)
- Name a guardian for minor or disabled children
- Specify who will pay estate and other taxes
- Make charitable gifts
At this point you may be wondering why someone would want their estate to avoid probate?
One reason is that the probate court process in Massachusetts typically lasts 9 to 12 months, and in some cases, considerably longer. Your named beneficiaries will not be able to receive their inheritance until the process is complete. Probate is also a matter of public record, so anyone will be able to access information about your debts, assets, and more. Furthermore, probating an estate can be complicated and frustrating, resulting in added stress for grieving loved ones.
I frequently design plans to help my clients ensure their estates avoid probate. We use other methods to accomplish the goals highlighted in the list above (usually a trust), but by avoiding the probate court process, we shrink the timeline and headaches considerably.
And of course, if you are faced with the prospect of probating a loved one’s estate, I can guide you through every step of the way. As always, I’m here to help with all of your estate planning needs.
Until next time, take care….