The most common vehicle of asset transfer in the field of estate planning is the last will, but it is important to understand that you do have other options. Why would someone want to seek an alternative to a last will? Depending on the exact nature of your assets and the specificity of your wishes there could be a number of reasons. But for most people probate avoidance would be the motivation for seeking another way to transfer assets to your loved ones.
So this brings up the question of why someone would want to avoid probate. There are three primary pitfalls to probate that cause many people to avoid it. For one thing, probate can be very time-consuming. Depending on the complexity of the estate, the jurisdiction, and the caseload at any given time it can take anywhere from perhaps nine months to multiple years for the process of probate to run its course. The heirs to the estate do not receive their inheritances until the estate has been probated and closed, and many people don’t want to see their family members waiting this long to receive their bequests.
Secondly, there are considerable expenses that go along with the probate process. The court itself charges a fee, and the executor is entitled to remuneration for his or her time and expertise. In addition, the executor is usually going to have to bring in a probate attorney, and in many cases a tax accountant, an appraiser or appraisers, and an estate liquidation company may be necessary as well. Of course all of these entities charge a fee for their services.
And finally, probate is a public proceeding and many people would prefer that their final affairs remain private. In addition, it provides a forum within which disgruntled parties could contest your will, and many people would prefer to keep this avenue closed.
To learn more about probate avoidance and the specific strategies that can be employed, the wise course of action would be to arrange for a consultation with an experienced estate planning attorney. He or she will listen as you explain your wishes, examine your circumstances, and make the appropriate recommendations.