You have probably heard that probating a will in Alabama can be a taxing and costly process. In many instances this is true but it need not always be the case. In fact, there are situations in which administering an estate through probate is the most painless of the available options—but only if you are prepared. In order to shed light on the subject and ensure your estate is optimized for the easiest possible administration, we have prepared the following breakdown detailing when (and when not) to probate.
When You Might Seek to Avoid Probate
Probate can get messy when your estate includes complex assets such as stocks, other types of investments, or fine art, when a family is feuding, or when no estate plan exists. In either of the first two cases, a trust-based plan may be the way to go as this option sees to it that your assets pass directly to heirs without intervention by the courts.
Another situation in which probate may cause problems is when your spouse or dependents have no income of their own. Probating a will can take weeks or even months, after all, and during this time beneficiaries will not be able to access your money. This means that funeral costs, household utilities, property insurance, taxes, and possibly even storage fees may need to be paid out of pocket while probate runs its course—a burden which can sometimes make meeting even basic needs difficult for loved ones.
Finally, you might want to avoid probate if you are worried about prying eyes. As a state court procedure, probate records are public records which means that anyone interested can access information about your assets, liabilities, beneficiaries, and personal representatives. Worse, nowadays many states make such information available online meaning the curious need not even visit the courthouse to gain insight into your private affairs.
While it is true that strategies to avoid probate such as placing assets in a revocable living trust come at an upfront cost, often they save you money in the long run—especially in cases of complex estates which require equally complex court proceedings
When You Might Consider Probate
Despite its bad reputation, probate has its place. In the case of smaller estates with simple assets, for instance, going through the courts can be an efficient, cost-effective process. This is especially true for very small estates that qualify for Summary Distribution of Small Estates—a shortened form of probate specific to Alabama.
Probate may also be beneficial in instances where creditor claims are a concern. Opening a probate case shortens the time that creditors have to file their claims and if they these claims are not filed properly and in a timely matter no payments need be made.
Lastly, probate may be useful when transparency is a concern as the courts require full disclosure of all information and costs. This means that during the probate process, beneficiaries gain the peace of mind of knowing that the executor or personal representative is laying everything on the table.
Ultimately, the decision to probate or not to probate is personal and yours to make. At Miller Estate and Elder Law we are happy to sit down, talk about your unique needs, and upon this basis craft a plan that work for you—no matter the direction you choose. To get started give our office a call at 256 251-2137 or reach us through the contact form on our website.