It’s important to get the advice of a probate lawyer when creating your will or when you inherit an estate. It is possible to avoid probate with a carefully structured estate plan, however Michigan state law requires most estates to go through probate.

Probate can be a complicated process. Here are a few tips to help you understand probate, and how an experienced probate lawyer can help protect your estate or inheritance.

What is Probate?

Probate is a legal process that is started after a person’s death. The goal of probate is to:

  • Verify the will.
  • Assess the estate’s assets.
  • Settle any taxes and claims on the estate.
  • Provide the executor with the approval to distribute property.

With luck, probate can take as little as a few months for small estates (under $24,000) with a clear will. For larger estates, the process can take a year or more. In worst cases, involving a large estate with no clear will, probate can be a lengthy process lasting several years.

If you do not have a will, the court will handle probate proceedings and make decisions on your behalf. Therefore, the first step to ensuring your property is handed down according to your wishes is to create a will.

Probate is handled through county courts. You can find a list of probate courts and contacts here.

How Can I Avoid Probate?

A good probate lawyer can provide advice on how you can avoid probate on some of your key assets. And putting many in place can be as simple as a quick phone call, or visit to your bank.

  1. Review all your assets and make sure you have a beneficiary named on each.
    This is the simplest step. Review all your assets, including life insurance policies, investments, bank accounts and IRAs. When a beneficiary is named on these documents, the property transfers directly to your beneficiary upon your death.
  2. Create a trust.
    Trusts are not just for the uber rich. In fact, setting up a trust can benefit almost any estate, large or small. If you have equity in your home or condo, have children, have a blended family or even a bank account, creating a trust can minimize taxes, court and lawyer fees or help you avoid probate on many of your assets.
  3. Create a Lady Bird Deed for your real estate.
    Michigan is one of the few states that allows a Lady Bird Deed. Putting a Lady Bird Deed in place allows you to sign a deed to the designated recipient (or grantee) while you retain the right to manage the property during your lifetime. Upon death, the property is transferred directly to the beneficiary without need to go through probate.
  4. Designate Joint Ownership for your assets
    If you have set up joint ownership, if one partner passes away, the asset will immediately pass to the surviving joint owner. For example, a joint bank account you hold with a spouse or partner. Joint ownership can be set up with almost anyone – family members, children or friends. You need to be sure you completely trust the joint owner, however, as
  5. Gift Special Assets
    If you give away family heirlooms like jewelry or artwork during your lifetime, they will not be subject to probate. However, did you know you can also gift your house, investments or even cash? You will need to be even more careful with gifting as it gives you even less control over your property than joint ownership. It does, however, mean that the assets pass directly to your loved ones without taxes or probate. You should be sure to talk to your accountant and/or lawyer before gifting any asset to ensure you are making sound financial decisions with all the correct paperwork in place.

Ready to talk to a Probate Lawyer?

Solid estate planning can make sure your assets go where you want them to go, with minimal delay and fees. Stephanie Krane-Boehmer provides her legal expertise to create a plan to help you realize your dreams.  You want to take care of your family. A strong estate plan can support your family today…and in the future.  Learn more about estate planning and Stephanie’s approach on our website.

Contact us today to get started.

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