Many people have heard that they should avoid probate at all costs but have misconceptions about what that means. It’s true that going to probate court is not a fulfilling experience for most, and that estate taxes can be inevitable, but it is all a part of distributing property after a person dies. Having a will alone does not avoid probate.
What a Will Does
A properly executed will is a legally binding document that tells the court how a person wants their property distributed after death. If a person dies without a will, or the will is not legally valid, they’re said to have died “intestate” and the probate court will distribute their property for them according to state law.
Every state has slightly different testacy laws. They all designate a specific order of people who stand to inherit including surviving spouses, children, parents, siblings and other extended family — some that you may have never met or knew existed. Most people would prefer that their property not go to the government or to relatives they’re not close to, which is why having a will is important.
The probate court oversees the distribution of your property subject to your will, meaning they provide legal supervision to ensure your wishes are carried out as the law provides.
How to Avoid Probate
If you’re intent on avoiding probate or at least making the process significantly simpler, it requires more than planning with a will. The key idea is that if you have any individually owned property at the time of your death, your personal representative, also known as an executor, will need to go to probate court. So how do you get rid of all your property without affecting your lifestyle?
An estate planning probate attorney can help you strategize. There are several ways you can keep control of your assets while still avoiding estate tax and probate.
- Living trusts. Living trusts are designed to allow your property to automatically pass to your beneficiaries upon your death, avoiding the need to go to probate. The property is no longer “yours” when you die, whereas if you used a will, it would be.
- Joint tenancy with right of survivorship. Owning a home in joint tenancy ensures your property automatically passes to your spouse or whomever is on the deed along with you.
- Designate beneficiaries. Designating beneficiaries of your checking, savings and retirement accounts, life insurance policies, stocks and bonds allows you to avoid probate.
A skilled estate planning and tax attorney can help you shield your assets from the probate process and the Massachusetts estate tax. You can preserve your hard-earned wealth for your beneficiaries and ensure your legacy continues.
Our attorneys are very familiar with the ins and outs of the Massachusetts estate tax laws. We are eager to help you make the best choices for your estate. Call Baker Law Group, P.C. for more information. View attorney profiles
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