You may have heard that probate is a hassle. But what exactly is it? Should you try to avoid it? Is that even possible? Here’s what probate involves and what can be done in advance to make it simpler.
Probate is a series of legal processes that dispose of a decedent’s estate. Like most legal processes, it can be imposing. But there are ways to make it easier and possibly even skip it altogether; if you prepare in advance.
Probate includes taking note of a will or trusts, inventorying and appraising any property, and notifying any beneficiaries. Hopefully, the deceased wrote a will and appointed an executor to take care of these tasks. If there is no will, the court will appoint an administrator to manage the estate. The executor or administrator will have to take note of any outstanding debts — generally, creditors have about a year to make any claims — and file a final income tax return. Depending on the size of the estate, federal and state estate tax returns may also be necessary.
Once the debts are settled, the executor will distribute the estate as outlined in the will. Since the heirs are named in the will, notifying them and then distributing the assets is usually not difficult. Unlike in the movies, you don’t need to gather everyone around a large mahogany table in a lawyer’s conference room; a phone call or an email usually suffices.
However, the overall job of gathering the papers and processing all the information can be a time-consuming task. For most estates, it can take up to a year — and even longer if the estate is complicated.