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Five easy ways to avoid a probate headache

While probate can be a complicated, expensive, and time-consuming process, it doesn't always have to be. By taking steps to reduce the amount of property going through probate, you can save your beneficiaries months of waiting and potentially thousands of dollars in legal fees.

Here are five ways to facilitate probate-free property transfer:

  • Joint ownership of property. Joint tenancy with right of survivorship, tenancy by the entirety, and community property with right of survivorship are three methods of setting up joint ownership of your property. This allows you to avoid probate completely.
  • Revocable living trust.When you transfer ownership of your property to a trustee to manage for you by way of a revocable trust, the property won't be part of your estate any longer. You can instruct your trustee to transfer the property to your beneficiaries upon your death, allowing them to avoid the probate process.
  • Death beneficiaries. If you assign a beneficiary to your financial accounts or property, the beneficiary doesn't have to wait for the probate process to conclude before receiving the money. Common methods include setting up financial accounts to be payable on death (POD), assigning a beneficiary to certain retirement accounts and setting up a 'transfer on death' registration for vehicles and securities such as stocks, bonds or brokerage accounts.
  • Gifts. Probate gets more expensive the more property you own, especially if you own high-value property. Gifting your property to your beneficiaries before you die removes it from the probate process. However, you'll want to ensure that you only give smaller assets away, as gift taxes could mean that your beneficiaries end up stuck with the bill.
  • Small estates. Most states offer an easy way to get around probate if you have what your state defines as a small estate. Your estate planning lawyer can help you determine the size of your estate and what options are available for you.

Consult with an experienced estate planning lawyer for help with questions about avoiding probate. By paying attention to your state's requirements and being thoughtful about disbursing your property, you can relax knowing that your loved ones will have no trouble receiving their inheritance.

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