The primary goal of any comprehensive estate plan is to devise a plan for how your estate assets will be distributed when you die. While this is certainly an important goal, your estate plan will likely have other goals as well. One of those should be probate avoidance. Understanding what probate is, and why you want to avoid it, can help you when it comes time to create your estate plan.
When a person dies, his or her estate typically has to go through the legal process known as probate. During the probate process, your estate assets are inventoried and valued. All of the debts your estate owes are also paid during probate. Finally, when the court is satisfied that everything is accounted for and all debts are paid, your beneficiaries will receive their inheritances. Even a relatively small estate can take several months to probate. The larger the estate, and/or the more complex the estate assets are, the longer the process can take.
Probate is also costly. The person who oversees the process (your executor or personal representative) is entitled to a fee for his or her services. There will also likely be fees for an estate planning attorney, accountant, and appraisers among other fees. These fees all add up, and the longer the probate process takes the more assets are drained from your estate to cover the costs of probate.
Now that you see why avoiding probate is an important estate planning goal, be sure to talk to your attorney about what you can do in your plan to avoid the probate process.