An estate plan usually begins with a will or a living trust. While a basic will is important for providing your instructions, it does not avoid probate. Any assets that are titled in your name or directed from your will have to go through the probate process before they can be distributed to your beneficiaries. In the event that you own property in several different states your family will probably have multiple probate situations, each one aligned with the laws in that particular state.
The process can vary tremendously from one state to another and it can become very expensive with executor fees, legal fees and court costs. It can also take anywhere from a couple of months to two years or longer. It can also be opened up to the public in certain situations. This is why it’s important to realize that the court system and not your family actually controls the process of your estate plan if you use only a basic will. Not everything that you do own will have to go through the probate process.
Assets that allow you to name a beneficiary such as annuity or life insurance policy will be exempted from this as well as jointly owned property. However, there are many reasons to consider using a revocable living trust as this is a very popular option for many families and professionals. It helps to avoid the probate process at death and can even assist with multiple probates in the event that you own property in numerous states. It can also bring all of your assets together within one plan and give you a better shield of privacy.