Probate is the process of dividing, managing, and distributing your estate after you pass. This is a court-supervised process that aims to ensure your belongings are divided exactly as you set forth in your will. A legal representative will assist the executor named in your will to carry out your last wishes.
There are several disadvantages to probate which cause many people to avoid the process entirely. One of the most common issues is that it can be tremendously time consuming, potentially lasting years. During this time inheritors generally do not have access to the assets which have been left to them. Another complaint is that a long period of probate can be very costly. In most cases fees are paid with funds drawn from the estate.
With proper planning you can minimize or even eliminate the probate process. There are several tools which sidestep probate including life insurance, living trusts, and joint ownership agreements.
If you fail to create an estate plan, and in the absence of a will, the government will distribute your belongings according to probate laws. Without a valid executor, a court appointed representative will be in charge of how your estate is divided. Many times this will go directly against what you may have wanted. The court may also choose an executor, such as a spouse, if that person would have reasonably been chosen by the deceased.