Probate—the legal process of managing and distributing an estate—is often time consuming and expensive. Fortunately, there are several ways to avoid probating estate assets, either partially or completely. With the proper estate planning techniques, you can avoid probate and save your loved ones a lot of time, expense, and hassle.
One of the foremost legal tools to avoid probate is a living trust. In New York, you can create a living trust that includes almost any asset in your possession, including real estate, valuables and bank accounts. To make a living trust, you first draft a trust document which will name a successor trustee; this is the person who will be responsible for the trust upon your death. Ownership of any assets you wish to put in the trust will should be transferred to yourself as trustee of the trust.
After the assets have been transferred to the trust, the property will be managed according to the terms of the trust. Upon the death of its owner, the successor trustee takes over and will be in charge of distributing the assets to named beneficiaries. Probate court proceedings are not required to distribute trust assets. An estate planning attorney can guide you toward the type of trust that is best for your needs.
Another effective strategy to avoid probate involves holding property jointly, usually with a spouse. Joint ownership means that your interest in the property will automatically pass to the surviving co-owner. Therefore, probate is not needed to officially transfer this ownership interest. This is known as right of survivorship. When property is owned jointly and one of the joint tenants passes away, that person’s ownership interest passes to the surviving joint tenant automatically without probate court proceedings.
Joint & POD Bank Accounts
Another good strategy is adding payable on death (POD) designations to any of your accounts that allow for this. Bank accounts or certificates of deposit may have a payable on death designation available, meaning you can name someone as the beneficiary of the account in the event of your death. The beneficiary will then be able to claim the contents of these accounts after the owner’s death without the need for probate. Of course, you can also simply create a joint account with the person you wish to name as the beneficiary as long as you don’t mind sharing control of the account.
These tools can significantly simplify and shorten the probate process, if not avoid it entirely. Another potential benefit to decreasing the amount of assets included in probate is that you could qualify for the small estate summary probate process, which does not require court supervision.
If you are new to the estate planning process and in need of advice, an experienced Queens probate lawyer can help you make the right choices for you and your family. Contact the law offices of Richard Cary Spivack for help making informed decisions about your financial future.