Estate Planning and Probate

Estate Planning and Probate

Avoiding Probate

Usually when someone dies, the only way to transfer assets to their heirs is by a process known as “probate”. The process involves securing all the assets of a deceased person, such as real property, bank accounts, personal property etc., and finding out what money is owed and what bills will be paid. By law, all debts of a deceased person must be settled before anything can be distributed to any heirs and beneficiaries.  Even the simplest of estates can take weeks to administer, and more complex estates can take months or even years.

Some assets can be titled jointly or can have beneficiary designation, so that it does not require probate in order to transfer ownership or title. If something happens to you, ownership immediately passes to the people you name. For example, a bank account that is held jointly with another person will automatically pass to the survivor after the death of one of the account holders. Another example is life insurance – a policy will be paid to the beneficiary named upon the death of the insured, regardless of whether the estate is being administered via probate. For other assets, a trust can be used to transfer title to property without probate.  Both of these methods are more private, more expedient, and less costly than probate.

Although Florida doesn’t have a state inheritance or estate tax, probate fees can add up quickly. These fees are set by statute, so negotiating a fee is usually impossible. These fees range from $1,500.00 for very small estates to over $165,000.00 for very large estates. Our attorneys can help you keep your estate from being depleted by probate fees

Other states such as Pennsylvania and New Jersey have significantly lower probate fees, so the need to avoid probate is not as financially detrimental. However, even in those states, there are benefits to arranging your affairs so that your estate does not need to go through probate, such as privacy, and the fact that assets can typically be distributed to heirs and beneficiaries much more quickly than assets distributed through probate. Depending on your situation and your individual needs, our attorneys can help you decide whether your estate will benefit from avoiding probate and tailor a plan for you.

We can help you create an estate plan that can protect your family from having to endure the complex and uncertain probate process. If you’ve recently lost a loved one who did not have an estate plan, our attorneys can help you navigate the complex probate process.

To set up a free initial consultation to discuss how your estate may benefit by avoiding probate or for help with administering an estate, contact our office by e-mail or for assistance in Pennsylvania and New York call our office at 215-568-4968, for assistance in New Jersey call our office at 609-523-2222, and for assistance in Florida, call our office at 727-538-4178. Evening and weekend meetings can be scheduled at your request.