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Probate and Your Estate

The probate process is an important consideration for post mortem planning. Upon death, a person's estate is administered through probate court. The probate court judge examines the will, if one exists, for validity. If the decedent did not prepare a last will and testament, in legalese, the person is said to have died intestate.

Dying intestate certainly prolongs the legal process for your heirs and beneficiaries, as the judge has more responsibilities and is left to determine what to do with your assets and liabilities within the confines of the law. For example, if you draft a will, you name an executor to distribute your estate upon your passing. But if you don't, the probate court judge must assign a personal representative to handle your post mortem affairs. Also, if you've left behind a will, it delineates which assets you want to go to whom. Without a will, the judge must distribute your property according to the state's intestacy rules of succession. In other words, your closest relatives inherit your estate, regardless of what you actually would have wanted. Worse, if no relatives can be found, your worldly possessions go to the state.

As you can imagine, the probate process, from filing the death certificate to court proceedings, can be lengthy, especially without a will. Probate attorney fees and other costs are involved, as well, which are deducted from your estate, diminishing what you hoped to leave to your beneficiaries. Establishing a trust for your property can prevent your estate from having to go through probate court and saves your loved ones time and money, a final act of kindness.

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