Living trusts are probably the best-known way to avoid subjecting your family to the hassle and expense of probate court proceedings after your death. But there are many other good probate-avoidance techniques, which you can use in addition to or even instead of a living trust. What’s right for you and your family will depend on your unique circumstances.
Avoiding probate doesn’t have to be difficult. Many people can use these simple and effective ways to ensure that all, or some, of their property passes directly to their heirs, without going through probate court.
Living trusts were invented to let people make an end-run around probate. The advantage of holding your valuable property in trust is that after your death, the trust property is not part of your probate estate. (It is, however, counted as part of your estate for federal estate tax purposes.) That’s because a trustee — not you as an individual — owns the trust property. After your death, the trustee can easily and quickly transfer the trust property to the family or friends you left it to, without probate. You specify in the trust document, which is similar to a will, who you want to inherit the property. (To learn more about living trusts, read
You can convert your bank accounts and retirement accounts to payable-on-death accounts. You do this by filling out a simple form in which you list a beneficiary. When you die, the money goes directly to your beneficiary without going through probate. You can do the same for security registrations, and, in some states, vehicle registrations. A few states also allow transfer-on-death real estate deeds that allow you to transfer property using a deed that doesn’t take effect until you die.
Several forms of joint ownership provide a simple and easy way to avoid probate when the first owner dies. To take title with someone else in a way that will avoid probate, you state, on the paper that shows your ownership (a real estate deed, for example), how you want to hold title. Usually, no additional documents are needed. When one of the owners dies, the property goes to the other joint-owner — no probate involved.
You can avoid probate by owning property as follows:
Giving away property while you’re alive helps you avoid probate for a very simple reason: If you don’t own it when you die, it doesn’t have to go through probate. That lowers probate costs because, as a general rule, the higher the monetary value of the assets that go through probate, the higher the expense. And most gifts aren’t subject to the federal gift tax