How Bad Is the Probate Process? It Depends.

Will Probate

Probate court gets a bad rap.

Most people believe that probating the average estate will take months (possibly years) and costs thousands of dollars in court costs and legal fees.

This misconception is perpetuated by lawyers who portray probate court negatively in order to sell their estate planning services.

However, most of my clients are pleasantly surprised by how quick and inexpensive the process can be.

An estate under $25,000 can usually be probated within a week or two.  And the filing costs and legal fees typically do not exceed $1,000.

For estates over $25,000 or estates containing real estate, the process is slighty longer–perhaps two to three months.  And the expense typically ranges from $1,000 to $3,000, depending on the attorney.

Nevertheless, some estates can drag on for years and cost a small fortune.

Here are some common reasons why this happens.

1. Your Will Names Too Many People

Every person named in your will must be notified of your death and must assent to your estate.  Thus, a will that names two people is usually far easier to probate than a will naming ten.

2. Your Will Names Charities or Other Organizations as Beneficiaries

Leaving a gift to a charity or organization in your will creates additional complications.

First, you need to identify and notify the legal representative of the entity.  This isn’t always easy.

Next, you’ll need to deal with additional bureaucracy.

In addition to complying with probate court’s rules, you’ll also need to deal with the procedures of the charity or organization.

This will almost certain slow done the process.

3.  You Have Contingencies in Your Will

You should leave your estate to your heirs with no strings attached.

For instance, a clause such as “I give $5,000 to my grandson David provided he graduates from college” could very easily make your will more complicated and expensive to probate.

4. You Make Specific Bequests

It’s best to devise your estate in equal shares.  For example, “I give my estate, in equal shares, to my son John and my daughter Elizabeth.”

Avoid making specific bequests, e.g., “I give my tea set, jewelry,  and furniture to my daughter Barbara.”

If you have any questions about estate planning, please contact me at justin@jrmccarthy.com.

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