PUT YOUR DUCKS IN A ROW
Top 4 Tips to a More Efficient Probate
We all need to put our ducks in a row when it comes to our estate. But where to begin and what really needs to be done for an efficient transfer of wealth. Here are 4 tips to get you started!
1. Keep a record of your assets.
You, and probably only your spouse, know what assets comprise your estate. If you are like most of us, no one else does – even the person you’ve appointed as the alternate Executor in your Will. As a result, without a current list of assets in your estate, your Executor is forced to rummage through your important papers and computer records to determine the extent of your estate. Take a quick look at your current record keeping… if you passed away today, would that be an easy task? Likely not.
2. Choose your executor wisely.
CHOOSE YOUR EXECUTOR WISELY
Many people defer to family relationships and birth order as the means of selecting their executor: spouse first; if not able, then the eldest child; if not able, then the second eldest child… and so on. But, are they the right picks to be your Executor?
Only you can answer that. The obligations of your Executor will depend upon factors present in your estate: Do you have complicated assets, such as a business? Do you want or need to benefit some people more than others? Do your beneficiaries get along? Do their spouses get along? The “outlaw in-laws” whispering in your child’s ear will be a tremendous influence on the administration of the estate -and rarely in a beneficial manner. Your Executor will have to deal with a variety of financial questions, emotional issues, and family politics. So, with that in mind, is following the standard course of selecting your Executor based on family relationships and birth order the right way to go? Or is it a recipe for disaster?
When faced with these questions, we can provide a number of alternatives such as combining parties to act as a group and drawing on their individual strengths to complete the collective tasks of an administration. Or, combining a family member with a trusted legal/financial advisor to help stick handle around the areas in which your family member requires assistance.
3. Ensure your Will is a valid, properly prepared legal document
Self-prepared wills are often vague and difficult to interpret, or are just plain invalid. Saving a few dollars on the preparation of your Will can result in years of family infighting and resentment, not to mention extensive legal bills. The expression “Pay me now, or pay me later” exists for a reason!
Finally, delays caused by steps necessary to fix a bad Will can result in tremendous hardships for those waiting for the estate to be administered. All of this can be avoided with an individually designed, properly prepared estate plan. Good Wills lead to efficient estates and happy beneficiaries!
4. Don’t take on too much. Understand your limitations and hire outside assistance, if necessary.
How can I put this politely… Surrogate Courts are notoriously “thorough” in reviewing probate applications. The process starts with a review by a Clerk of the Court. If there are any defects or questions in the mind of the Clerk, the application will be returned for amendment or clarification. Your application is fixed, resubmitted, and is sometimes reviewed by a different clerk, who may have an entirely different set of questions or requests for clarification, and the process starts all over again.
It is possible for any person to prepare an application for a probate. You don’t have to be a lawyer. But if you choose someone who is not experienced in the process, it can lead to frustration and lengthy delays, not to mention calls by impatient beneficiaries on a weekly basis looking for updates!
One final thing to bear in mind, is that Executors are personally liable for their actions… and inactions. Over the last few years, legislation aimed at improving the process of obtaining a probate is leaning towards more accountability on the part of Executors, meaning more liability. Understand your limitations and hire professionals well versed in the task of probate to assist.
If you are dealing with a difficult estate, or just need information to get started on the right track, give us a call for a complimentary planning meeting and let us show you how we can assist.