An individual recently came into my office believing everything regarding her estate planning needs was “all set” but wanted me to assure her that she was indeed all set. She was under the false impression that because she had a Last Will & Testament (Will) there would be no need for probate or to open an estate when she died. Unfortunately, but often the case, when the “Will” was drafted, the attorney probably just listened to the client regarding her specific instruction as to who would receive what and that’s exactly what the attorney did. There was never the discussion regarding probate avoidance with her.
I learned from this individual that she had bank accounts in her name only, a house owned by her individually, and other assets including, life insurance and a retirement account. She truly believed these assets would pass to the intended recipients automatically and without the burden of the probate process.
As you can imagine, she was shocked to hear that disposition of the bank accounts and house would indeed be subject to probate. To make matters worse, the named beneficiary on the life insurance and retirement account had pre-deceased her. She was not happy to hear that the life insurance and retirement account would be subject to probate because the beneficial designations were not updated.
There is a good ending to this unfortunate account of what could have happened! I assisted “my” new client with changing the form of ownership and beneficial designations for her assets and she is now pleased that she has taken the steps to prevent her loved ones from experiencing the unnecessary costs of probate upon her death which would have involved preparation of the required probate documents, filing fees, and attorneys’ fees not to mention the lengthy probate process itself which can take 1-2 years to complete.
Significant expenses and duration of the long probate process can be avoided with careful planning to ensure peace of mind!