Who can you trust? Deb hears this question over and over again in her professional practice as an elder law attorney and a fee-only, holistic financial planner. Let Deb teach you how to protect yourself and your assets from those who might not have your best interests at heart. [Editor's note: Deb no longer contributes to Silver Planet, but we have made her archived blog entries available as a service to our readers.]
This one’s tricky. Some states do have onerous probate procedures that are costly, time-consuming, and require a lot of court involvement. If you live in one of these states, by all means, take whatever steps your attorney recommends to avoid it.
But if you live in a state that has adopted the Uniform Probate Code in one form or another (18 states at last count), the probate procedure can be relatively cheap, quick, and informal, with limited court involvement. Colorado, where I practice, is one of those states. Many simple estates can even be probated without significant involvement of attorneys. You can learn what you need to know and download all necessary forms from the Internet. You can do it yourself, if you’re willing to put in the time and energy to understand and follow all steps carefully.
In fact, the probate process is often desirable, since it shortens the time frame when creditors can make their claims. Valid creditor claims must be paid before beneficiaries get anything, whether you have a will, a trust, or no documents at all. Avoiding probate won’t change this.
So if you live in one of these “easy” states, beware of attorney come-ons that seek to scare you into “avoiding probate.” They come in the guise of information-only seminars at hotels, and use misleading language and alarm tactics, hoping to snare you into buying trust packages that cost you thousands of dollars. Good estate planning isn’t cheap, but it shouldn’t cost you that much. Forgo the fancy embossed “Legacy Wealth Plan,” and use a reputable attorney.
Don’t avoid probate—avoid salesmen!
By Deborah Hoskins, JD, CFP
The Wise and the Wary Blog