Wills and probate are an essential part of estate planning. Wills are used to provide directives for how inheritance property is to be distributed upon death. Wills can also be used to express burial preferences and appoint guardianship for minor children. Upon death, a decedent’s last will is filed through probate for validation.
Validating wills and probate can take several months. The average duration of probate is 6 to 9 months, but can vary depending on estate assets, outstanding debts, and family dynamics. An estate administrator is appointed within the Will. If no Will exists, a probate executor is appointed through the court.
Probate gives estate administrators time to issue creditor notices, secure and appraise inheritance property, notify government agencies such as Social Security or Medicare, pay outstanding debts, and distribute inheritance assets.
Probate can be prolonged when heirs contest the Will or if decedents do not execute a legal Will. Known as intestate estates, managing an estate without a Will requires additional work. Intestate estate administrators are confirmed through the court and must abide by state probate laws when distributing inheritance property.
If heirs believe they are entitled to inheritance that was not bequeathed to them, they can contest the Will. Heirs can also contest a last will and testament if they believe the decedent was under the influence of another or were not of sound mind when drafting their final Will.
Heirs who contest a Will are responsible for legal fees unless a probate judge rules in their favor. The decedent’s estate is responsible for defense counsel fees. If the Plaintiff’s claim is justified, the estate will be responsible for reimbursement of legal fees. Contesting a Will can prolong probate for months or years and often bankrupts the estate with litigation costs.
Estate planners recommend retaining a probate lawyer to settle decedent estates when family dysfunction exists. While this cannot stop heirs from contesting a Will, it oftentimes discourages family members from taking legal action.
Engaging in estate planning can protect certain property from undergoing the probate process. These can include checking and savings accounts, financial portfolios, retirement accounts, life insurance proceeds, and titled property such as automobiles and real estate.
It is best to consult with a professional estate planner or probate lawyer to determine which strategies are best suited. Some states allow small estates to settle without the need for probate. Others require estate administrators to obtain court confirmation and submit all estate transactions through the courts. While others let will executors engage in estate settlement duties without court supervision.
Probate lawyers and estate planners often offer complimentary consultations to discuss estate planning needs. These professionals can advise of the best strategies to protect inheritance property and reduce the risk of having the Will contested.
The process of wills and probate can be challenging; especially when decedents do not leave a valid Will or when family strife occurs. Everyone age 18 and over should engage in basic estate planning. Don’t procrastinate about executing a last will and testament. The process is easy and only requires a few hours of time. In the end, estate planning is the best gift anyone can leave their loved ones.
Learn more about wills and probate from California real estate investor, Simon Volkov. He shares information and resources regarding probate, estate planning, and strategies to avoid probate via his website at www.SimonVolkov.com.