As I help clients form an estate plan, the main goal is normally to avoid probate. There are different ways to do that, beneficiary designations or a trust, but sometimes it simply doesn’t happen. More and more recently I have been hired to clean up those times when a person hasn’t properly planned.
When a new probate client comes in, there’s a few things that we need to figure out to determine how probate will work:
The assets – Only assets that do not have a beneficiary or owner will go through probate. So, if a life insurance policy has a beneficiary, it does not need to go through probate. Or if a bank account has another person listed as an owner (but please don’t DIY plan this way), it does not need to go through probate. So the first step, is to figure out which assets need to go through probate and the approximate value.
The heirs/devisees – I also need to know about the family left behind. The court will need to know who the heirs are and if there was a will, who was entitled under the will. For all these people, I need legal names, addresses, dates of birth, and, if possible, social security numbers.
The death certificate – Where a person lived and when they passed determine which court and which probate process will be used.
As you can see, it’s not a long list of things of things that I need. However, gathering the information can be difficult. Even just getting an approximate value of the assets can be hard, because when a person passes most companies will not give out that information until probate has begun. But this is just the first step to beginning the probate process, next month I’ll explain those processes and how they each work. From there, I’ll tell you the drawbacks to each and why it’s just best to avoid probate from the start!