Probate of an estate doesn’t have to be complicated or costly. Just taking a few steps when creating an estate plan will dramatically reduce potential conflicts and delays that crop up during the administration of an estate.Consider the following action steps before finalizing your estate plan:
- Review your life insurance, pension, and other intangible assets (including but not limited to bank and investment accounts) and designate beneficiaries. Naming beneficiaries on an account allows the asset to be transferred outside of probate.
- Designate one family member as a personal representative and another as an alternate. Naming two people as “joint executors” almost guarantees a family feud that will last years if not decades. What is usually intended by the decedent as a way to avoid conflict becomes the center of it. Siblings who harbor resentment towards one another are now forced to communicate and agree on who will do what with the estate. This generally results in each securing their own attorney, escalating attorney’s fees, and delaying the probate. Naming two people as joint representatives creates unnecessary conflict, drama, expense and frustration – in other words – disaster.
- Make sure your will is valid. To be valid, it must be in writing, signed, and witnessed by two individuals who are not beneficiaries or executors under the will. A notarized will is preferable because it becomes self proving. Each person must have their own will. Avoid wills that have been picked up from well-meaning financial advisors or online services.
- Give the personal representative and your attorney copies of your will. Keep the original will in a notebook or file with other important papers. Retrieving your will quickly allows probate to begin without an extensive search or publication for a “lost will.”
- Make a list of your personal property with significant sentimental or financial value (over $100) and attach it to your will with the names of those you want to receive the gifts. This will keep grudges and conflicts at a minimum and avoid the executor from breaking up fights because you promised a family member that they would get something after you died. It may also avoid the family Bible or heirloom photographs from ending up in a heap beside the road because family members didn’t have the time to respect or cherish your keepsakes.
- Make sure if you have minor children that you designate a guardian and alternate guardian for their care and custody.
- Include your personal wishes for your funeral and burial in your will.
Leave a legacy, not a family feud.
If you have questions or would like a free family assessment to assure that your estate planning, real estate, long term care, and death directives are in place, call Attorney Linda Carley at 386-281-3340. Linda Carley has more than thirty years of legal experience, including serving as a probate judge.