Ideally, an individual will have an iron-clad estate plan in place before passing away. This would allow one’s estate to be distributed according to one’s wishes while at the same time avoiding unnecessary expenses. Yet, we all know that the ideal is rarely achieved, which means that many estate plans have errors that can lead to unwanted consequences. One of the biggest mistakes is failing to create a will prior to one’s death.
When this happens, the estate will have to pass through probate. The court will appoint a personal representative to administer the estate, whose duties include valuation of the estate, collecting assets, paying the estate’s debts, and handling the expenses incurred by the estate. Then, the estate administrator and the probate court will have to determine who will inherit the estate in accordance with the state’s intestate succession laws. Generally speaking, those who are most closely related to the deceased individual will have a better chance of obtaining estate assets.
Only once the estate’s assets have all been accounted for and distributed to heirs will the probate court close a case. This can be a complicated and expensive process, as it can be quite an endeavor to locate, value, and determine to whom assets should go. This is why many people try to avoid the probate process as much as possible.
Not only can a strong estate plan help avoid the hardships associated with the probate process, but it can also allow an individual to retain control over how his or her assets are passed down. This is no small thing, especially considering the emotional attachments to certain property and people involved in the process. Although facing one’s own mortality isn’t the easiest thing to do, we find that our clients oftentimes find themselves relieved once they know that their estate is in good hands upon their passing. Therefore, we encourage those looking to create or modify an estate plan to speak with a law firm that is right for them.