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Freeman's Blog

November 22, 2011

Estate and Retirement PlanningIf you’re like most, your estate will go through a lengthy probate process following your death. While probate courts typically make distributions according to your wishes, leaving a valid will is absolutely essential if you have specific requests. This means that if you wish to leave your nephew a specific piece of real estate, a will is the only way to ensure that this is carried out following your death. Probate law largely comes from feudal laws of medieval England. As a result, there are a number of problems with the probate process that make it worth avoiding.

First, probate is a lengthy process. The settlement frame for most estates can be anywhere from 9 months to 2 years and, unfortunately, your heirs will be unable to access their inheritance until the probate process has been completed. Secondly, it’s not a free service. Though many states argue that probate “helps” an estate by ensuring that the wishes of the departed are carried out, it comes at a cost. Between six and ten percent of your estate, in fact, can be consumed by probate fees, leaving less for your heirs to inherit.

Finally, the proceedings of probate court are a matter of public record. Anyone with the time and desire could visit the courthouse and find out exactly how much you left to each heir, any debts you owed, and the size of your estate. If you don’t like the idea of airing your family’s financial information for the whole world to see, there are steps that you can take to ensure that your estate never even enters into probate. Proper estate planning allows you to pass your estate on to your loved ones privately and without undue expense or delay. Your best bet would be to consult with an estate attorney and ask about trusts.