By: Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
January 5, 2016
3 Dangers of Probate
When considering estate planning, you’ll hear a lot of talk about “avoiding probate.” But what is probate, and why is it something people want to avoid?
Probate refers to the legal process through which a deceased person’s affairs are settled. It involves paying off your debts and distributing everything that you own—referred to as your “estate”—to your heirs.
Generally after a person dies, his or her family will need to go through the probate process to formally appoint guardians of minor children, effectuate burial wishes and, most commonly known, to obtain the possessions that were left behind. This includes any assets in the deceased person’s name—from houses to vehicles to bank accounts to personal possessions.
When individuals fail to plan their estates properly, it can have drastic consequences for their heirs in the probate courts. Not creating an estate plan leaves your possessions vulnerable and ensures that your family will have to go through a potentially long, complicated, and expensive process to recover your assets—if they can recover them at all.
Here are some of the dangers of letting your assets go through probate without a strong estate plan.
Disagreements in Court
It’s not something that many people like to think about, but if you have particularly valuable or desirable assets in your estate, your heirs may argue over who receives those assets in probate court. Probate can bring out the worst in people, especially since many people are still in mourning when they begin the process, and therefore struggling with strong emotions.
In a time of grief, family arguments over who deserves what from your estate can create deep, long-lasting resentment among your heirs. By planning your estate carefully and making your wishes known to your heirs, you can sidestep these conflicts entirely. In fact, with careful planning, addressing these issues during life can avoid them entirely.
You may worry that the cost of hiring an estate planning attorney is prohibitive, but in the long run working with a professional to come up with a clear, thorough plan is a much less expensive process than going through the probate courts. One thing that many people fail to consider is that their family will have to hire an attorney for quite some time in order to go through probate, in addition to paying the numerous court fees associated with the process. Probate is typically many times the cost of an estate plan.
As a result, probate can be a frustrating drain on your estate, taking up to a not insubstantial percentage of the value of your total assets.
It is far less costly to plan ahead and spare your family this expense. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to help you reduce the amount of money that your family has to spend in probate court.
One of the biggest inconveniences of probate court is the sheer length of the proceedings. Any kind of legal proceeding will be drawn out and complicated, but probate can be especially complex and long-lasting.
First, the probate courts must identify and record all of your assets and identify and notify creditors. Then they may have to liquidate some of those assets to satisfy any creditor claims. If there are any of the above-mentioned conflicts, then the courts will have to settle them before your estate can be distributed. While the process may seem simple, each individual step can take months.
The typical amount of time that heirs spend in a simple probate administration is roughly 8 months, although it is possible that your family will have to wait even longer to recover your property.
To spare your family the headache and hassle of the probate process, consult with an experienced estate planning attorney today to learn what options are available to you.
Barry E. Haimo, Esq.
Strategic Planning With Purpose
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