The probate process in New York can sometimes drag on for months or even years, and mounting costs can drain estates and leave heirs wanting. The most effective way to prevent this from happening is to transfer assets in a way that they pass outside of probate, and estate planning strategies that can be used to avoid probate include gifts, death beneficiaries, trusts and joint property ownership arrangements.
Joint property ownership avoids the probate process by transferring property to the surviving joint owner when one joint owner dies. Probate is avoided because the deceased individual no longer owns the property. This is accomplished under New York law with a joint tenancy with a right of survivorship. Gifting assets to heirs is another way to avoid probate, but this strategy requires planning and may be undone by unexpected circumstances. Using gifts to transfer less valuable assets mitigates these risks.
Revocable living trusts allow individuals to transfer property while retaining the right to revoke the trust in the future. Transferring assets to a trust removes them from an estate and avoids probate, and the trust can be set up to transfer the assets to designated heirs upon the benefactor’s death. Beneficiary designations are another estate planning tool often used to avoid probate. Retirement accounts and other financial instruments may allow funds to be transferred to a designated beneficiary when the account holder dies, and these arrangements are often quick and simple to set up.
A comprehensive estate plan may prevent family conflict, avoid probate and minimize estate and gift tax exposure. An attorney familiar with end-of-life matters could explain how addressing these difficult issues can eliminate gnawing anxiety and provide peace of mind. An attorney may also recommend that estate plans be regularly revised and updated in light of evolving family situations or changes in the law.