Using Wills and Probate Planning to Protect Estate Assets

Wills and probate refer to estate planning strategies used to bequeath inheritance gifts. Wills provide written directives as to how property is gifted upon death. Wills can also be used to indicate preferences for burial, and to appoint a guardian for minor children. Probate is the process used to settle estates upon death.

Wills and probate settlement often extends for several months. Much depends on type of inheritance gifts, debts owed by decedents, and family dynamics. A personal representative is named in the Will and responsible for estate settlement proceedings. If a person dies without executing a legal Will, a personal representative is confirmed through probate court.

The probate process gives representatives time to issue creditor notices; notify government entities such as Medicare, Social Security, or Veterans Affairs; secure and inventory property owned by decedents; pay outstanding debts; and oversee distribution of inheritance gifts.

Estate settlement proceedings can be extended if heirs contest the Will or if the deceased did not execute a Will. Estates without a Will are referred to as \’intestate\’ and often require additional time to confirm an estate administrator and determine rightful heirs. Administrators of intestate estates must comply with state laws on the distribution of inheritance property.

When direct lineage heirs feel entitled to inheritance gifts that were not gifted to them through the Will, they can file a lawsuit against the estate. This is known as contesting the Will. Heirs can also contest the Will if they believe the decedent was not of sound mind or under the influence of another at the time they executed their last will and testament.

Heirs are initially responsible for costs surrounding contested Wills. If the judge rules in their favor the estate may be ordered to compensate legal fees. If heirs lose the case they may be ordered to make restitution to the estate for legal fees. Regardless of how the judge rules, contesting a Will prolongs probate and often leaves nothing for loved ones.

When family strife exists it can be advantageous to hire a probate attorney to engage in estate administration proceedings. Having a lawyer as the legal representative often dissuades heirs from contesting the Will and minimizes family disharmony.

Establishing estate planning strategies can protect certain types of property from having to pass through probate. For example, individuals can assign beneficiaries to receive money held in bank accounts, financial portfolios, retirement accounts, and life insurance proceeds. They can also establish beneficiaries for titled property such as real estate and motor vehicles.

In order to ensure compliance with state probate laws it is necessary to consult with an estate planner or probate attorney. Most states exempt small estates from enduring the probate process. Exemption values range from $25,000 to $100,000. For example, California probate exempts estates valued below $100,000, while Indiana\’s exemption is $50,000.

The majority of estate planners and probate attorneys provide complimentary consultations to talk about estate planning needs. Some charge a nominal fee which is often deducted from final costs. Working with professionals is the best way to determine appropriate strategies and protect the estate from the risk of having the Will contested.

Adhering to probate protocol can be a challenge; especially when decedents do not execute a Will prior to death or when family conflicts occur. Estate planning is recommended for anyone aged 18 and over.

Many people procrastinate over implementing wills and probate strategies. However, the process is simple and takes only a few hours. Those who take time to implement estate planning procedures can have peace of mind knowing loved ones will receive intended inheritance gifts.

Author Bio: Simon Volkov is a real estate investor and probate liquidator who shares insights about wills and probate, estate planning, ways to avoid probate, gifting inheritance property, and establishing trusts. Learn more about protecting estate assets at www.SimonVolkov.com.

Category: Finances
Keywords: wills and probate,last will and testament,probate process,inheritance property,heirs,estate planning

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