The emotional distress of losing a loved one is bad enough. Finding that their personal affairs are not in order adds to the turmoil. If you desire to protect your loved ones from this double whammy, you may want to bone up on estate planning. You may not know what probate is, but you’ve certainly heard that it’s something you want to avoid. Here are the basics to get you started on the road to tidying up your personal affairs and getting a solid plan in place.

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What Is Probate?

Before you can understand how to avoid probate, you have to understand what it is. With a will, the deceased’s personal property passes directly to the beneficiaries designated in the will, in the precise manner specified. Additionally, provisions in the will for the guardianship, support, and care of minor children can be executed immediately.

If a person dies without a will, they die “intestate.” Without a will, the courts have to decide what to do about the personal property and the care of the children. In the absence of a will, the court has no idea what the decedent’s wishes were; therefore, the courts strictly follow the state statutes regarding the property and the children. This process of having the court make all the decisions is called “probate,” and it can be a maddeningly slow process for grieving relatives to endure. Worse, the results of following the state statutes may differ dramatically from the desires of the decedent and the family, adding insult to injury. Here are some tips to avoid probate.

How to Avoid Probate

The easiest way to avoid probate is to have a valid, up-to-date will. This will ensure that your wishes for taking care of your loved ones and disposing of your property are carried out. Not only is it relatively simple to do, but it’s one of the most loving gifts you can provide your family. To prepare to create a will, you can use our online Estate Planning Worksheet for Marrieds or Estate Planning Worksheet for Singles to make sure you cover the basics. These worksheets will help you organize your thoughts and collect essential data before you have your will drafted.

Another key way to avoid probate is to make sure to name alternate executors in your will. If you only name one executor, and they are unwilling or unable to serve, your estate may then have to go through probate even though you have a will. Naming alternates is simple and easy. The same applies to guardians for your children. While selecting guardians can be difficult, it’s imperative if you don’t want the state involved. Make sure you name alternates, so in case the guardians you’ve selected can’t serve, the alternates are lined up to care for your children.

There are other probate-avoiding estate planning tools, such as titling property in “joint tenancy with rights of survivorship” so that major assets pass directly to your spouse (or whomever you’re in joint tenancy with).

Depending on the size of your estate, your will may be simple or complex. But, without one, all the things you’ve worked for in life may end being distributed in ways that are against your wishes, and your loved ones may not be cared for in the way you desire. Take a few extra minutes to download our Estate Planning Worksheet today, and you’ll be on the road to peace of mind.

Get started Start Your Estate Planning Worksheet Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest.

Get started Start Your Estate Planning Worksheet Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest.