The bad news: When a deceased person’s estate (all of their money and property) has to go through probate (the court-supervised process of distributing a deceased person’s money and property), it can be subject to a variety of costs stemming from attorneys, executors, appraisers, accountants, and courts, as well as potential delays.
The good news: Many of these probate costs can be reduced by avoiding probate. There are three simple ways of avoiding these costs: 1) name a beneficiary, 2) create and fund a revocable living trust, 3) own property jointly.
Now let me explain how each process can reduce or eliminate costs by avoiding probate:
1. Name a Beneficiary
The probate process only applies to those accounts or other property that are in your name at your death. By naming a beneficiary, these accounts and other property will be transferred to the named individual without any court involvement. Common beneficiary designation assets include:
- Life insurance
- Retirement plans
Caution: When someone is named as a beneficiary of an account or piece of property through the use of a beneficiary designation, he or she will receive that account or property outright, which could subject the account or property to claims asserted by the beneficiary’s creditors.
2. Create and Fund a Revocable Living Trust (RLT)
Once the RLT has been created, and you have properly transferred the ownership of your accounts and property to the RLT by re-titling them into the name of the trust, you remain in charge of all legal decisions until your death as the trustee, and you retain the enjoyment of those accounts and property as the current beneficiary. After your death, your named successor trustee will manage and distribute your assets – according to your wishes. A trust works well if it is properly created and funded by an experienced estate planning attorney.
3. Own Property Jointly
Probate can also be avoided if the property you own is held jointly with a right of survivorship. Similarly to a beneficiary designation, joint ownership has the effect of automatically transferring the ownership upon your death. In Texas, you can establish joint ownership of property by having the asset titled as Joint Tenants with Right of Survivorship. If you have an asset titled this way, the ownership simply transfers to the other tenants upon your death.
State laws play an important role here. We can help you determine which form of joint ownership, if any, is a good fit for you.
Caution: Just as with a beneficiary designation, adding a joint owner to your accounts or property can subject the accounts or property to claims asserted by the new joint owner’s creditors. Moreover, this vulnerability begins the moment they are added. This means that your accounts or property could be seized by your new joint owner’s creditors even while you are still alive.
Give Us a Call
Nielsen Law PLLC provides family focused estate planning to individuals and families in Austin, Round Rock, Cedar Park, and the Central Texas area. For more information and to learn about our firm, please contact us.