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Can a will circumvent probate?

Wills are very useful documents, and every adult should have one. Each time that some very wealthy person passes away without a will (and yes, this does happen far more often than you'd believe) estate planning attorneys throughout the country roll their eyes and wonder what could possibly have kept the decedent from making a will during his or her lifetime. If you have any assets or liabilities, you probably need a will. However, it is also important to understand that wills are not magic, and cannot bypass certain laws simply because the author of a will wishes it might.

One thing wills generally cannot do is circumvent probate, at least not entirely. Probate is the process by which the state distributes a deceased person's estate after he or she passes away, and without a will, the estate division is unlikely to align with the decedent's preferred estate distribution.

While a will may not get around probate altogether, it can determine how the state distributes the estate. Should a person die and still personally own property, especially property that involves a title of some kind that must transfer to another party, probate facilitates that transfer. Using a well-crafted will, a person can lay out who he or she wishes to leave a portion of the estate, and also who he or she does not wish to leave anything. Without a proper will outlining these wishes, the state assumes responsibility for estate division and distribution.

If you do not have a will, take this opportunity to reach out to an estate planning professional and begin a dialogue about crafting a will that truly meets your needs and reflects your values. A proper will protects not only your wishes, but also the rights of the ones you love and the estate you possess.

Source: Findlaw, "When Do You Have to Go Through Probate?," accessed Oct. 20, 2017

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