A comprehensive estate plan typically accomplishes more than simply deciding how your estate assets will be distributed when you die. One secondary goal of a thorough estate plan is avoiding the probate process. While it is true that most estates cannot completely avoid probate there are a number of strategies that can be incorporated into your estate plan that will significantly limit your estate’s exposure to probate.
To understand why you want to avoid probate you first need to know what probate is. Probate is the legal process that is required by the State of Missouri when a person dies. The purpose of probate is to ensure that all the decedent’s assets are located and valued, all debts of the estate are paid, and all estate property is legally transferred to the rightful beneficiary or heir. Without prior estate planning probate can take months, even years, to complete and can cost your estate a significant amount of money – money that should go to your loved ones instead.
Certain estates in Missouri may be entitled to probate through a less formal process known as a small estate affidavit; however, if your estate does not meet the requirements for small estate administration it will need to go through formal probate.
The key to avoiding probate is to limit the number and value of assets that are included in your estate when you die. Only assets that are legally owned by you at the time of your death are required to go through the probate process. Therefore, anything that you manage to keep out of your estate decreases the assets involved in probate. Property that you have properly titled jointly with a spouse/child/parent, for instance, may pass directly to the other owner when you die, bypassing probate. Assets transferred into a living trust may also no longer be considered part of your estate at the time of your death. Those assets too will not be involved in the probate of your estate. Moreover, certain assets like proceeds from a life insurance policy are not considered part of your estate and so they too remain outside of probate.
By working closely with your estate planning attorney you can keep a significant portion of your estate assets out of the probate process altogether if you wish to do so. Not only will this move the probate process along much faster but it will also help decrease the costs associated with the probate process. That, in turn, frees up more assets to pass on to your loved ones as you would undoubtedly prefer.