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Probate's a headache. How can it be avoided?

If you are reading this, you are seeking answers to questions that too often go unasked. One of the reasons most people don't even think to inquire about estate planning is because they are so busy living their lives they don't think they have an estate to plan for. That's usually not true, which is why it's good to start asking the questions now.

One of the main reasons that anyone should plan their estate is to see that whatever assets might exist get handed on to surviving loved ones in the most expeditious ways. In one of our previous posts, we examined reasons why it's a good to avoid probate. The biggest among these is that, lacking necessary planning documents, the process of probating an estate can get complicated, time consuming, and costly. In this post, we talk about some of the tools that can minimize the need for probate in Missouri.

Valid will

First, it's useful to be aware that in Missouri, probate occurs with or without a will. The level of estate administration depends on the size of the estate. If it's below a certain threshold, it can skip probate. Above that mark, and the court handles matters. So, the first tool is a valid will, which outlines distribution of property. Whether done in or out of court, the will rules.

Other tools

Every state's laws differ, and what follows may or may not apply in Missouri, making consultation with an attorney important. But in brief, there are four other legal methods in the United States for transferring property outside of probate. These include:

  • Joint property ownership: Three structures are possible in Missouri; Joint Tenancy with a Right of Survivorship, Tenancy by the Entirety, and Tenants in Common
  • Designation of death beneficiary: If you have life insurance, retirement accounts, or bank accounts with the right transfer provisions, and you have named beneficiaries for them, those assets can bypass probate.
  • Revocable trusts: This assigns ownership of assets to someone else. That person serves as trustee who can be instructed to transfer funds to others according to your will, upon your death.
  • Gifts: While an apparently obvious tool, it is often overlooked. Giving away property can shield assets in some cases, but it requires careful planning. It's usually most beneficial in cases of small estates.

As complicated as it seems, application depends on your circumstances.

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