Probate is the court proceeding that is required to pay a person’s creditors and transfer title to assets owned by the person (in contrast to a trust) at death. If a person has created a revocable trust but failed to transfer all assets to the trust that would be subject to probate, at the person’s death those assets must go through a probate procedure to be transferred to the trust where they will be distributed in accordance with the terms of the trust. Probates can cost estates thousands of dollars in legal fees, may delay the distribution of assets to heirs for a year or more, and are of public record.

Avoiding probate may not be appropriate for some families, but it is a common goal for most. Estate planning tools available to accomplish probate avoidance include revocable (living) trusts, joint tenancy ownership with rights of survivorship, transfer-on-death deeds, beneficiary designations (retirement accounts, qualified plans, annuities), and payable-on-death designations (bank accounts).

Michelle B. Robnett, PLLC represents personal representatives through the probate process, and advises families on appropriate probate avoidance techniques.