Most people do not need to avoid probate. They need the right tools to make it easier. The first step to that is drafting a will and informing loved ones of its location and contents.
Even then, the challenges are only beginning. In addition to managing the paperwork and legal formalities that follow a death, your loved ones are also facing their grief. This is an overwhelming time where even a simple telephone call to a life insurance company feels like a monumental task.
Efforts made now can make this easier for your friends and family in the future. Once you finish your will, complete these five tasks to assure a more efficient probate process for your loved ones.
Keep It All Together
Once you draft a will, keep the original in a safety deposit box, a copy with your attorney, and another copy with your executor, the person named in your will to manage your estate. Let other family members or close friends know you have a will and who has copies of it.
Wills do no favors if they are kept secret. If no one knows you have a will and/or cannot find it, then your loved ones will be forced to file an intestate probate in order to transfer your assets. An intestate probate is a probate without a will. It is more time-consuming and more expensive than a probate with a will. Moreover, this leaves your loved ones wondering what to do. A will expresses your wishes and directs your loved ones what you want to become of your assets after your death.
Keep other important documents near your will as well. These may include real estate papers, car titles, stock certificates, and life insurance policies. If all these documents are together in one place, life for your grieving executor just became easier.
Make Lists Now
One of the largest tasks in probate proceedings is the inventory. This is a list of all your assets and their values. The court uses it to determine the value of your estate and the distribution of your property.
Start keeping updated lists now to make this job easier for your grieving relatives. If you have a special collection of art, jewelry or other high-value items, keep track of these items in a spreadsheet or even a notebook. List values if you have them. Your executor may have to get some items appraised, but even just a list will make the inventory step easier for your executor.
If a loved one is a joint owner on a real estate deed or car title, tell them. This makes it easier for them to take possession of these items after you die and keeps the asset out of probate. The same is true for any life insurance policies. If beneficiaries know they are entitled to these funds, they may be able to collect them without the involvement of the court or your executor.
Likewise, if there are family members who are not receiving any of your property, be direct about this situation and who is affected. You may want to tell a trusted family member. Being clear about all your wishes, even those that work against family members, prevents problems after your death.
Organize Your Finances
Just as you own assets, you may also carry debt. Keep mortgage documents, credit card statements, and medical bills in an accessible place and maintain a current list. Then when you executor must send out notices to creditors, they do not have to engage in an exhaustive search to find them all.
Provide Attorney Contact Information
When you pass away and your family and friends grieve, your estate planning attorney can be a guiding voice of reason during a difficult time. It is much easier to complete a probate filing with the attorney who knows you, and drafted your will, then to start from scratch with a new attorney.
Your attorney’s name, address, telephone number, and email address should be in the margins of your will. Inform your family members who you hired to handle your estate planning. Even if your attorney moves from the area or retires, having that information can still help your loved ones find someone else to represent them in the probate proceeding.
Diane L. Gruber, Attorney at Law, offers estate planning and probate guidance for Oregon residents. Not only can we design an estate plan that best reflects your wishes but we can make the probate process more efficient and effective for your family. Contact our office today to schedule an estate planning or probate consultation.