Estate Planning

What Will Probate Cost Your Family?

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Estate planning can be an uncomfortable subject for some to contemplate. After all, even if the idea of passing your property and assets on to your loved ones after you’re gone gives you a sense of satisfaction, nobody wants to think too long or hard about their own death. But few people understand the complications that lack of comprehensive estate planning can cause for their families if they have not been through the lengthy, expensive process of going through probate to settle an estate themselves. If there are any unusual circumstances—estranged family members, blended families, or ownership issues—then conflict and confusion can make the situation even more difficult.

Before you decide that scheduling an appointment with an estate planning attorney is something you can put off again, consider a not-so-uncommon scenario that left an estate unusually exposed to probate and a family dealing with unnecessary uncertainty at a time of grief.

The Dangers of Relying on a Will Alone

Picking up the pieces after a loved one has died is never easy. However, having an estate plan that allows for the most efficient transfer of assets to beneficiaries and accurately reflects the decedent’s wishes can make a world of difference for those who are left behind. In this case, the decedent left behind a widow and adult stepchildren from his second marriage, as well as an estranged son from his first marriage. He had only a simple will, one that specifically excluded the son, who had no relationship with his father’s new family.

While having a will is better than leaving no indication of one’s wishes behind, it does not prevent an estate from having to go through probate, the court process that handles the distribution of property and settling of debts of those who are deceased. Unfortunately, in this situation, an additional circumstance added further complications—the home the couple lived in was titled only in the deceased’s name. Having retained it after his divorce, the deceased had had it retitled in his name nine years before his second marriage, and his new spouse’s name had never been added.

Had she been added to the title, she would have been able to take full ownership of the house after his death without it having to go through probate. The unintended consequence of that choice or oversight, in conjunction with the lack of an estate plan, turned out to be a costly mistake for the family. Because probate fees go up with the gross value of the estate, including the value of the house drove those fees up by tens of thousands of dollars.

Better yet would have been putting all his assets, including the home, into a trust with the assistance of an experienced estate law attorney. That would have enabled the entire estate to bypass the lengthy probate process and its associated costs. In addition, a trust can provide the opportunity to add nuance to how wealth is distributed after someone passes on—for example, delaying distributions to children until they are older. Working with an experienced estate law attorney is the best way to ensure that a comprehensive estate plan does what it is intended to and that no assets are inadvertently left subject to probate.

And what about that estranged son? The family had no reason to expect he would challenge the terms of the will—but also no assurance that he would not. Even an unsuccessful challenge to a will can be expensive and time-consuming, and a bare-bones will is more likely to leave room for dispute. When the possibility of family conflict might pose a threat, a comprehensive estate plan can help lower the risk and protect against a challenge overturning a decedent’s wishes.

Trusted Estate Planning Law Advisors

Probate is already an expensive, time-consuming nightmare—but knowing that it could have been avoided makes going through it much worse. The Trusts & Estates team at Bridge Law LLP can help preserve your legacy and ensure your family never has to endure probate. To schedule your estate planning consultation, contact us here today.

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We want you to feel comfortable discussing your legal issue with us. Contact us today to setup a time to come in and talk with our team.


Contact Us Today

We want you to feel comfortable discussing your legal issue with us, so we offer a free consultation to learn about your problem. Contact us today to setup a time to come in and talk with our team.