The most common estate plan that people opt for is a will. They create a document listing their assets, their chosen beneficiaries, their trusted executor, and backups. When they pass away, the will needs to be brought to court to be implemented.
This process is called probate, where the court oversees the execution of the will, from paying off the debts of the deceased to dividing the inheritances to the beneficiaries.
However, the probate process can be lengthy and expensive, which is why a lot of people opt to avoid it altogether. While probate is mandatory in most cases, there are things individuals can do during their estate planning to skip it.
Reduce the value of the estate.
Not all estates require probate. In many states, there is a threshold estate amount before probate is mandatory. In Minnesota, estates that amount to less than $75,000 do not require probate and can be collected via an affidavit.
One thing that can be done for an estate to skip probate is to reduce its value during life. Individuals can opt to give assets to their families, loved ones, or charities while they are living so that their estate gets smaller. If the estate falls below the threshold, they will no longer need the court system to distribute it, hence avoiding probate.
Add beneficiary designations to financial accounts.
Financial accounts like life insurance policies, 401ks, bank accounts, etc. have provisions that allow the account owner to list beneficiary designations. When they pass, the third-party company will transfer those assets to the named beneficiaries automatically by virtue of the private agreement. This process does not require probate.
Without listing beneficiary designations, however, the court will need to intervene to determine how to handle those assets and to whom they should be given.
Opt for a revocable trust estate plan.
In lieu of a will, individuals can also opt to create a revocable trust. In contrast to wills that are court documents, revocable trusts are private family entities that work outside the court system. Because of this, any asset in the trust can be automatically transferred to the beneficiaries without the need for probate.
A person can put everything they own in the family entity, such as their cars, real estate, financial assets, etc. Upon first death, the assets still remain in the trust, in the ownership of the trust beneficiaries.
If avoiding probate is a top priority, these three things can be set up so that assets can skip the court system and be transferred automatically — at no cost, no lengthy period, and no court intervention.