Probate can tie up your property for months and costs you a lot in court fees, so it’s no wonder people are looking for ways to shorten the legal process, or even bypass it altogether. If you’re preparing your estate planning documents, it’s essential to know how to avoid probate so you can take it into account while making your estate plan. Here are five common ways that you can avoid having to go through the probate process.
1. Create a living trust.
A common way to avoid the probate process is by having living trusts in place. In setting up a revocable or irrevocable living trust, the trustee becomes the owner of the trust property. Since you no longer have ownership of property held in a trust, it’s not considered part of your probate estate. Instead of going through probate after death, the initial or successor trustee can efficiently distribute your property to the beneficiaries of the trust, as written in your trust agreement. Consult with a trust lawyer for legal assistance on creating a trust.
2. Use transfer-on-death deeds and payable-on-death accounts.
Another way you can skip probate is to convert your bank account and retirement accounts to payable on death (POD) accounts, and having a transfer on death (TOD) deed for your real estate which takes effect when you die. In both cases, you’ll need to fill out a form to name your beneficiary. Talk to an estate planning attorney to know how POD accounts and TOD deeds affect your estate plan.
3. Take note of property under joint ownership.
The jointly owned property will avoid probate if one owner dies before the other. Such includes owning property as joint ownership with right of survivorship, community property with right of survivorship, and tenancy by the entirety.
4. Avail of the probate shortcut for small estates.
State law provides shortcuts to shorten or bypass proceedings for probate entirely for small estates. In Washington, assets that are worth $100,000 or less (not including your partner’s community property interest) after subtracting liens and encumbrances qualify as small estates. Inheritors who want to skip probate need to submit an affidavit signed under oath stating the following information:
- that you were a resident of the state at the time of death;
- that value of your estate qualifies it as a small estate;
- that your debts and funeral and burial expenses have been paid for;
- the name and address of the inheritor;
- the reason why the inheritor is the rightful owner of the property; and
- the description of the personal property that the inheritor is requesting.
Note that written notice should be sent to other beneficiaries at least ten days before filing the affidavit, and provide a copy of the document along with the deceased person’s social security number to the Department of Social and Health Services.
5. Give it away as a gift.
Similar to trusts, assets that were given as gifts while you’re alive don’t go through probate, and most aren’t subject to federal gift taxes. By doing this, you’ll lower probate costs for your estate after you pass away.
Do you need help with estate planning in Washington?
Administering your estate shouldn’t be a hassle for your family and loved ones. Having an estate plan that can avoid the probate process helps ensure that your beneficiaries won’t have to go through hurdles just to get the assets and property that you left for them. If you’re looking for legal help for an estate administration matter, schedule a free strategy session with James A. Jones, Attorney at Law today to discuss your needs and options.