Probate is a Hassle, However It Can Be Totally Preventable


The old saying is tried and true: nothing is certain except for death and taxes.

When it comes to the first part of that saying, the fact is that there is nothing at all certain about the probate hassles that often come along with the passing of a loved one—in fact, they can be preventable.

First of all, let’s clarify what we are talking about. When someone passes away, there has to be a legal way for all the assets titled in their name to be transferred to someone else. That process is called probate. If there is no alternative mechanism set up to transfer the title of an asset from the decedent to their heirs, such as a trust, then probate is the only way to do it. But there are huge drawbacks to this process. It’s burdensome, it’s expensive, it’s time consuming, and it’s totally open to the scrutiny of the public. If family members are already dealing with the emotional issues of losing a loved one, the last thing they need is the additional headache of having to go through probate.

But the good news is that it doesn’t have to happen. Yes, that’s right—it can be totally preventable. With just a little careful planning, you can arrange your affairs such that your loved ones never, ever have to go through the probate process. And in most cases, they will be far better off if you plan things that way.

So how do you do it? The key is to take advantage of all the options available for various types of assets to be automatically re-titled from the decedent to their heirs, eliminating any need for probate court involvement. Yes, this can be done, and what’s even better is that in most cases these techniques are cheap (or even free), and easy. What’s not to like about that?

Here are some of the ways in which to avoid probate:

1. Real Estate: if you own a home and you’re married, you can hold the title as Joint Owners with Right of Survivorship. The key is that last part: the survivorship feature. This means that if one of the joint owners dies, their interest passes to the other joint owner automatically, with no probate necessary. If you’re single, you can hold title with a transfer on death feature for a relative, significant other or friend, which will accomplish the same thing. All it takes is to check the title of your real estate, and change it if necessary to add the survivorship and/or transfer on death feature – and presto! No probate for the real estate.

2. IRAs, Life Insurance and Annuities: Each of these has what’s called a Beneficiary Designation Form. As long as the account owner names someone on that form who outlives them, the survivor gets the asset with no probate, no matter who they are. This can be particularly significant when it comes to IRAs, which for many people can be one of their largest financial accounts.

3. Bank Accounts such as checking, savings, C.D.s, etc: These can be held as Joint Owners, in which case the surviving joint owner takes full title upon the death of the other owner, with no probate necessary. An alternative is to sign a Transfer on Death (TOD) form, which will accomplish the same thing. If you properly implement these techniques, most, if not all of your assets, can transfer to your heirs without having to worry about probate.

But, this discussion would be remiss without mentioning one other type of asset that is most often overlooked…the vehicles—whether car, RV, boat, van, etc. I’ve seen many cases where a client passed away with one or more vehicles in their name, and a probate estate had to be opened just to transfer title of their used vehicle to their heirs. What a waste and a shame. What could they have done instead? For over 10 years now, Ohio has allowed any vehicle owner to hold title to their vehicles with a transfer on death feature. All you need to do is visit the Title Bureau, pay a nominal fee, and have them re-issue the title with the transfer on death feature. This is not automatic, so you need to request it. I can’t stress enough the untold hassle and headache that you can save your loved ones by taking the time right now to do this for your vehicle titles!

If you do proper planning as described above, you can see to it that probate never has to disrupt your family’s life…and believe it, they will be truly grateful to you one day for the foresight and care that you showed in doing this for them. It’s really a wonderful gift that you can give them in the future, just when they need it the most. So make sure to give us a call, come in for an appointment, and let’s get to work on getting this done for your family.