Individuals who take the time to establish an estate plan often have numerous objectives and goals in mind. For many people, avoiding probate is among these goals. Probate is a notoriously complex and time- consuming process that can tie up related assets and property for months or, in some cases, even years. Additionally assets that pass through probate also become part of a public legal record and can therefore be accessed and viewed by anyone.
Not all estate planning vehicles protect assets and property from probate. For example, assets or personal belongings that are included in a will must still pass through probate. Therefore, if one of your goals is to avoid probate, it’s important to talk to an estate planning attorney. An attorney will assess your specific situation and assist in establishing an estate plan that achieves this, as well as many other, unique goals.
The following four strategies are among those that can be put in place and used to transfer assets outside of probate:
1. Joint ownership – If you own property jointly, upon your death, ownership rights are automatically transferred to that individual through what is known as a survivorship benefit.
2. Use of beneficiaries – Ensure that you name, and if necessary update, the beneficiaries for your retirement and investment accounts as assets held in these accounts will pass directly to these individuals.
3. Revocable living trusts – Establishing a revocable living trust allows you to effectively transfer ownership of assets and property and maintain control over how assets are managed and dispersed via specific directives and by appointing a qualified trustee.
4. Gift allowances – Taking advantage of annual gift allowances can be an effective way to transfer relatively small amounts of assets directly to heirs. Current annual gift exclusion cap for 2016 is $14,000 per individual or $28,000 per married couple.