Probate, by basic definition, is the legal process of distributing a person’s estate after their death. While the definition makes it sound simple, probate can become a lengthy and complicated process for your loved ones if the right steps aren’t taken to protect your estate.
So it makes sense that a question we’re often asked is, “How can I avoid probate for my estate?” If you’re looking to form an iron-clad strategy to avoid against probate in Virginia, you have a few options at your disposal.
Creating a trust is one of the best ways to protect your estate from probate, and it’s a fairly uncomplicated route to take. With a trust, you can protect virtually every asset you own – liquid assets, real estate, family heirlooms, vehicles, and so on.
Opening a trust essentially means you are transferring ownership of your assets to a neutral third party – the trust. While you still maintain control of your entire estate while you are alive, in the event of your death the trust immediately is given legal rights to distribute your estate according to your wishes.
Setting up a trust is a relatively straightforward process with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.
With joint ownership, you essentially add a second party to all legal ownership of your assets. In the event of your death, the surviving joint ownership automatically retains full ownership of any property that was previously jointly owned. In many cases, parents will do this with their children, or spouses will own all assets jointly, in order to avoid probate after passing.
With joint ownership, it is imperative that proper legal documentation is kept so that the surviving party does not have issues proving legal ownership. That’s another thing estate attorneys are great for!
When it comes to bank accounts, securities (stocks and bonds) and vehicles in particular, you have the option in Virginia to implement transfer-on-death processes that allows you to name specific beneficiaries for these assets. This means that in the event of your death, the surviving beneficiary can automatically obtain full ownership of the asset.
Every estate is unique, and every situation is different. The right way to defend your estate against probate will vary depending on numerous factors, including the size of your estate, what kind of assets you own, who your beneficiaries are, and how you would like your estate to be distributed. Sitting down with an estate planning specialist is a great way to start planning for your future and finding the right path for you and your family.