Law Blog


Probate: Can it Be Avoided?

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When a family member dies, whether it is expected or unexpected, grief is natural. Grief can take many forms and could last for quite a while, depending on the relationship and circumstances of the death. In addition to dealing with the emotional aspects of death, families may also have to go through the probate process to transfer their loved ones’ assets. Probate is a court process that facilitates the transfer of property from a deceased person to their heirs based on a will or, in the cases where there is no will, state law.

Can Probate Be Avoided

Some people do everything they can to avoid probate because probate rulings become part of the public record. This is often because they want their estate to remain private. People who are well-known in their communities may not want others to know what they owned or subject their loved ones to scrutiny after they die. People who are frugal might want to skip probate because of the costs their family members will have to pay to settle their estates. Others seek to avoid probate to prevent rifts between family members. Mixing emotions with large sums of money might cause family members who love each other to fight like enemies.

One of the most effective ways to avoid probate is to set up a living trust. A probate attorney might suggest this type of trust for someone who wishes to keep their estate private. Assets that are owned by the trust may be transferred to family, friends, or organizations without involvement from the court. Living trusts can be changed while the grantor is alive. A living trust is a legal entity and owner of the assets when the grantor dies. Upon the grantor’s death, the trustee distributes the property. Someone interested in using a trust as part of their estate plan can learn more at

What Happens to Cash and Retirement Accounts

Certain assets are not subject to probate. This includes cash in checking and savings accounts as well as retirement accounts. These types of assets are transferred based on the beneficiary designation on file with the bank or other financial institution. It’s important for anyone with one of these financial accounts to review beneficiary designations periodically and especially after significant life events to ensure they are in line with their long-term goals. Marriage, divorce, death of a loved one, and the birth of a child or grandchild are all good reasons to take a look at where cash will automatically go if the owner should unexpectedly die today.

Estate planning is essential for anyone who wants to have control over what happens to their assets after they die. Those who pass away without a will have the fate of their assets determined by the probate court. People who have remarried and have children from previous relationships should consider working with a probate attorney to ensure their estate plan gets set up to include everyone important to them. The only way to have control over what happens to assets, including money, jewelry, real estate, family heirlooms, and other precious items is to have an estate plan.