Probate may be one of the most confusing aspects of estate planning. Some see it as an important legal process, and others do everything possible to avoid it. The average estate will go through probate, which proves the validity of your will, verifies the identity of your heirs and provides time for your creditors to claim what you may owe. While all of this is important, the process is slow, and this means your heirs may spend months or longer dealing with it.
It is possible to avoid probate by properly titling your assets or establishing a living trust. While these may cost you more than a simple will, your heirs may appreciate that your efforts protected them from some of the negative elements of probate.
The cost of probate
Probate fees tend to rise when the economy turns sour. Your loved ones may spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars to get your estate through the probate process, especially if you leave no will. These fees come directly from their inheritance or from the liquidation of your assets.
Meanwhile, your heirs may be on the hook for the ongoing expenses of your estate. As long as your estate is in probate, your heirs must maintain your home, pay your bills and keep up with insurance and taxes. It is possible that they will not be able to access the money in your bank account to help with this unless your accounts are jointly shared.
Who makes the decisions?
If your estate goes through probate, your heirs and your personal representative will have limited control over how things proceed. A judge will have to approve most steps along the way. If your family decides to sell your home to help pay your bills during probate, they will need the permission of the judge, who will also have to approve the sale price and the accepted offer. If you run a business, the probate judge will be the one determining the fate of the business.
You may also be shocked to learn that any estate that goes through probate becomes a matter of public record. All information about your assets and debts, your estate executor and your heirs are public information for anyone to access. Many Texas counties offer this information online to anyone who searches.
You may not be comfortable or feel safe having your personal information become a matter of public record. You may also prefer that your family and loved ones have access to their inheritance as soon as possible without court interference. If this is the case, a conversation with an estate planning attorney may be warranted.