Probate is a tedious legal process that many families in Pennsylvania have to navigate after the death of a loved one. Because probate is notoriously time-consuming, expensive, and stressful, it’s not something you want your family to have to deal with while they’re grieving your loss. The good news is that there are steps you can take to avoid probate! Daly Law Offices can help you understand what legal protections you need to have in place and give you and your loved ones peace of mind that your estate will be able to bypass the process.
What Is Probate?
Probate is a Pennsylvania court process that legally transfers a deceased person’s assets to their beneficiaries. The purpose of probate is to ensure that the deceased person’s wishes are carried out and that random people can’t just make claims to their property. It involves a series of court-supervised steps, including submitting the will to the court, inventorying and appraising assets, notifying creditors and beneficiaries, filing tax returns and paying taxes, settling outstanding debts, and more. Probate can take months or even years to complete, and until the estate is fully administered, family members may not be able to receive possession of assets and property left behind. For example, if you pass away, your loved ones may not be able to move into your house, renovate it, or sell it until probate is done.
There are many fees and deadlines involved in probate; if there is a dispute over the will, or conflict among family members or with creditors, litigation may need to occur, which is expensive and can deplete the estate. You’ve worked hard to leave an inheritance for your family, and you want to make sure they are taken care of when you’re gone. When you avoid probate, you can keep your hard-earned assets from being depleted by these unnecessary costs. Here are 5 steps you can take to avoid probate!
Step #1: Create A Trust
Living trusts allow people to own their assets in a fiduciary arrangement that a) manages how the assets are used during their lifetime and b) provides for the eventual transfer to designated beneficiaries upon their death. There are two main types of trusts – revocable and irrevocable – but many other types of trusts that fall under those two categories, including special needs trusts, charitable trusts, etc. The type of trust you choose will depend on your specific financial circumstances.
In Pennsylvania, trusts, unlike wills, do not have to go through probate. If you create a trust with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney, your family will be able to avoid the process altogether.
Step #2: Own Property Jointly
Joint ownership is a great way to avoid probate. By owning a property with another individual, such as your spouse, they will have “right of survivorship”, which means that all of your assets that were owned together with them will transfer directly to them (without having to go through probate) upon your death.
Pennsylvania law dictates two forms of joint ownership: joint tenancy ownership and tenacity by the entirety. The main difference between the two is that marriage is required for tenacity by the entirety, which is less flexible than joint tenancy but protects each spouse’s property from the other’s creditors.
Step #3: Gift Assets Before Death
Only assets that are in your name have to undergo probate when you pass. So, if you give your family members property and assets during your lifetime, those gifts won’t be subject to probate. This can also help you to decrease taxes and decrease the overall value of your estate; in Pennsylvania, you can gift up to $15,000 a year without a tax penalty, and estates under the $50,000 threshold can undergo a simplified form of probate. Remember that gifting assets is different from leaving them behind in a will, which will not enable them to avoid probate. You will need to give your assets away and ensure that they are owned in someone else’s name before your death.
Step #4: Designate Property As Payable-on-Death
A payable-on-death designation can avoid probate by transferring certain types of property, like stocks and bank accounts, to your loved ones after your passing. Unlike some other states, Pennsylvania does not allow individuals to name payable-on-death designations on real estate or vehicles.
Step #5: Work With An Attorney
Probate law in Pennsylvania is complex and involves a quagmire of nuances and legalities. A probate attorney can help you understand all of your options for avoiding probate and navigating ownership transfers as well as prevent costly mistakes.
Let Us Help You
Many people don’t want to think about their death, and understandably so – it can be frustrating, and sad, and even scary to think about your family having to make do without you to provide for them. However, no one is guaranteed tomorrow. If you pass away without planning ahead, you could leave your family in a difficult financial situation, and that’s not the kind of legacy you want to leave behind. Avoiding probate is a time-sensitive matter! At Daly Law Offices, we can help you get your affairs in order with the least amount of stress and maximum amount of protection possible. Our lead attorney, Joshua N. Daly, has over 15 years of experience helping clients in Lehigh Valley and the surrounding areas navigate estate planning and take other steps to avoid probate. These areas of law can often be confusing, so he will cut down on the amount of legal lingo in order to provide clarity for your way forward. Call today to request a free consultation and learn more about how we can serve you!