Probate is the court proceeding to transfer a dead person’s assets to the people who are supposed to get them. Simple in concept, but humbug in practice. Probate can easily take a year or more to complete, and the attorneys’ fees and other costs associated with probate could easily eat up 5% or more of a decedent’s gross estate. (“Decedent” is lawyer talk for someone who has assumed room temperature—i.e., a “dead person.”) If a decedent owned assets located in more than one state or country, it may be necessary to have a probate in each jurisdiction where the decedent’s assets are located. If one probate is bad, you can bet that more than one probate is worse. In almost every case, probate is an awfully good thing to avoid.
In addition to the money and time that probate can consume, another reason people try to avoid probate is that the court’s probate files are public records. Nosy people can go through the court’s probate files and gather all kinds of information that may be profitable to them—and detrimental to decedents’ families. This is a growing concern, especially as we see more and more cases of identity theft.
OK, so probate is a good thing to avoid. How do I do that? There is no "one size fits all" answer, but there are some very effective strategies that will be addressed in coming blog posts.