If you're like most people, you have a vague understanding about probate, that it has to do with dividing assets after a person dies. As such, you may have dismissed the subject as something you really don't have to worry about. (After all, you won't be around.) However, what you don't know about probate can end up costing the people you care about a lot of money after you die.
1. Probate court will decide who gets your assets if you don't have a will. If you die without having made a will, the probate court in your state will decide who gets your assets. That may or may not be whom you would have chosen to inherit your assets. In addition, there will be court fees associated with the process that will reduce the amount your heirs will get.
2. You don't necessarily avoid probate with a will. Depending on the size of your estate, your heirs may still have to work with the probate court. That threshold is different depending on what state you reside in. However, most small estates (such as those valued less than $100,000) can be settled without the court being involved.
3. Not all assets go through the probate process. In addition to small estates, items that transfer outside of a will, such as quit claim property deeds and assets in a living trust, are not subject to probate.
4. The probate process can take up to a year. While the court will usually release short-term funds to family members, if most of your assets are in property, there may not be money for your family to use until the probate process is completed. A good probate attorney—like those at Leon J Teichner & Associates, P.C. and other firms—can help you set up your accounts to avoid this situation from happening.
5. Probate is a public process. Probate court records, like most other court records are available to the public. If you'd rather not have your assets published in the public court record, you should take steps to avoid the probate process.
What happens after you die isn't something that most people want to consider. However, a little time and energy spent educating yourself about how probate works can help you maximize the amount of money and other assets that you are able to leave to your heirs. It's also a good idea to enlist the aid of a good probate attorney, not only to help you set up your estate, but also to assist your heirs after you're gone.