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Estate Planning Newsletter

The Meaning of Probate

Probate, a Latin term meaning “to prove the will,” is a court-supervised process that settles a person’s affairs after death.

To ensure that the decedent’s final matters and wishes are handled correctly and without bias, most states have probate courts (or special departments of the court) to oversee the settling of estates. Probate may occur even if there is no will.

Court Appointees

Usually the court will appoint one of 2 types of persons to oversee the decedent’s final affairs:

  • Executor – Typically the person, bank or trust company named in a will to administer the estate
  • Administrator – Typically appointed if the decedent died without a will (intestate)

On behalf of the decedent, the probate court makes certain that:

  • Any final bills and expenses are paid, including any taxes owed
  • Any assets remaining are distributed to the beneficiaries named in a will
  • If there was no will, any assets remaining are distributed to the correct heirs under the laws of intestate succession

What Qualifies for Probate?

The deceased person’s estate must have assets (such as real estate, bank accounts, securities) before probate occurs. Each state sets its own requirements on when probate is necessary, usually according to the value of an estate’s assets.

In some states, the assets must be at least $10,000 to go through probate, or modified probate. However, other states allow assets of up to $100,000 before probate occurs.

These assets would not include any real or personal property of the decedent’s that others receive directly through joint tenancy, trusts, life insurance benefits, right of survivorship or other means.

Reasons to Avoid Probate

The primary disadvantages of probate are:

  • The time it takes for an estate to be administered through the probate process
    (which can span anywhere from several months to several years)
  • The cost involved in the probate process (which can include fees for the court, estate administrator, attorney and taxes)
  • Keeping Assets in a Custodial Account for a Minors
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  • The QDOT and Non-Citizen Spouse
    A QDOT is a specific type of marital deduction trust that is designed to ensure that non-citizen spouses will eventually pay any taxes that may be due upon distribution of the principal from the trust, even if the surviving spouse... Read more.
  • Requirements for a Will under the Uniform International Wills Act
    The Convention on the Form of an International Will (the “Convention”) was drafted and presented to the international community in 1973. The Convention was signed and ratified by a number of countries, including Canada and... Read more.
  • Tax Considerations of Long-Term Care Insurance
    People are living longer, but for many a reality of aging is that at some point they are unable to care for themselves. The costs of retirement homes and in-home care are rising, generating concerns for many on how to pay for the cost... Read more.
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