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Estate Planning Newsletter

  • Distribution of a Missing Person's Property
    When an individual dies, their estate must be administered and distributed according to their previously established estate plan (if the decedent executed an estate plan prior to their death) or state intestate succession laws (if the... Read more.
  • Life Insurance Policies and Marital Settlement Agreements
    Many marital settlement agreements require one party to maintain a life insurance policy on his or her life naming the former spouse as the primary beneficiary. While this provides some financial security for the former spouse, it may... Read more.
  • Special Powers of Appointment
    What is a Power of Appointment? A power of appointment is the power given by one person to another (referred to as the “holder” of the power of appointment) to designate who is to receive an asset.... Read more.
  • Application of a Gift Tax
    A gift tax is a tax on the privilege of making gifts to others while the taxpayer is still living. The gift tax supplements the estate tax, which taxes gifts made upon death. The gift tax was created to frustrate the attempts of those... Read more.
Estate Planning News Links

What is 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)
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