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Important steps for avoiding probate

The thought of having an estate go through probate could be worrisome for some New York residents, especially if there is a significant possibility of some potential heirs disputing the distribution of assets as outlined in a will. Avoiding probate can save both time and money, and some of the potential stresses and contentions might be minimized as well. Further, avoiding probate can protect the privacy of those involved. However, it is important to understand the steps needed to limit the risk of a drawn-out probate process.

One of the most common strategies for limiting probate activity is to use a revocable trust to manage assets. This allows heirs to be designated and assets to be distributed promptly upon the death of the grantor. A trust is not handled publicly, which serves one's interests in keeping such personal matters private.

If there is an interest in handling certain assets outside of a trust or will, joint ownership might be helpful. For example, a home would be transferred to the other party rather than being subject to probate. This can be handled through options such as joint tenancy, tenancy by the entirety or through community property laws. However, joint ownership must be established prior to one's death. A retirement account or other personal account can be transferred on death to a designated beneficiary, which can keep such an asset out of probate.

The legal costs of probate can be high when there are valuable assets involved. An individual might want to consider giving away some assets to avoid this issue. Estate planning can be complex for those who have unusual assets or family situations. However, an experienced lawyer can often provide helpful strategies for addressing special needs, serious areas of conflict, or other unique issues that might impact the handling of one's assets.

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