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How to Prepare for Probate

Posted on Mon Jan 8, 2024, on Probate and Estate Administration

From Our “Ask a Question” Mailbag: “I am getting older, and when I die, I want the process to be as easy as possible for my children. What steps can I take to make the process painless? What are your suggestions on how to prepare for Probate?”

How to Prepare for Probate

Probate Attorney Daniella Horn

How to Prepare for Probate?

Probate is simply the process of dividing up a person’s assets when they die. Since the first human picked up a pretty rock or formed a pointed stick, we have struggled with the question of who got those items when the owner died. Was it the tribe leader? The deceased’s spouse or child? If a child…which child? So many questions. There is one certainty that someday we all shall die, and our things will be divided up. So, how do you prepare for Probate?

The Documents.

At the most basic level, preparing for the end requires preparing three documents: a durable general power of attorney, a medical directive/living will, and a Will. 

The first two documents help you when you are alive but when you are unable to take care of your medical and financial affairs. I list them here as they often come into play when someone is in the process of dying. If you do not have these documents, your assets may be left in disarray at your death, thwarting your efforts to have your things pass easily. For more information, follow this link to my article, Powers of Attorney, All You Need to Know, and to Living Wills and Medical Powers of Attorney, All You Need to Know.

Your Will.

Your Will is the third essential document. Each person is unique, and each family has issues that must be addressed. Wills vary depending on your assets, overall plan, and the people or organizations you wish to benefit at your death. Some situations can be handled simply, but others can benefit from more complex plans protecting from divorce or creditors. New Jersey and Pennsylvania have strong trust statutes that allow you to inexpensively protect inheritances from your heirs’ creditors, divorces, and bankruptcies. 

Furthermore, federal law allows you to create protective trusts for your heirs to enable them to enjoy their inheritance but still qualify for needs-based government benefits. It is impossible to tell if one of your children or grandchildren may have an accident someday that creates substantial medical bills. Why not create a plan that allows them to qualify for government assistance but still have their inheritance for other costs? For more. For information, please read my article on Special Needs Trusts.

Or Will Substitute.

Depending on your overall plan and assets, the best option may be to avoid Probate. There are various methods to avoid Probate; the most common is a Revocable Living Trust. In short, the significant advantage of a Revocable Trust is that you do the work during your lifetime to assemble your assets in a way that makes managing things at your death simple. Your Estate Planning Lawyer forms the trust and drafts deeds, moving your real estate into the trust. You then work with your financial advisors to transfer your bank accounts and investments into the trust. The goal is that there is no need to file your Will with the county at your death. Instead, your successor trustee takes over from you using only your death certificate. 

While a Revocable Trust is more work for you, you know where your assets are, while your executor often does not. Putting things in order during your lifetime saves your family the time, expense, and effort to locate and assemble your things. Please follow this link to learn more about Revocable Living Trusts

Having a Good Relationship with your Probate Attorney.

Part of the preparation includes assembling your team. Depending on your assets, this may include, among others, a property manager, realtor, CPA, and a Probate Attorney. Our firm has an Estate Planning team and a Probate team. Working together, we help ensure that your Estate Plan considers how to make Probate as easy and boring as possible. 

Would you like more detail? Follow this link to my article, Probate: Everything You Need to Know

In Conclusion, how do you Prepare for Probate?

I hope you found this short article about How to Prepare for Probate helpful. I have also included some links for more detailed information. Contact us if you want to know more or have an estate that needs our help. Let our Probate and Estate Planning lawyers help walk you through what can be a confusing process. Feel free to contact our office for a free consultation. It’s All We Do: 

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