If you have ever discussed estate planning with anyone, you may have heard the advice to avoid probate at all costs. Maybe you took this information to heart, not really understanding the implications of probate. Without a doubt, probate is time-consuming, confusing and sometimes frustrating. However, the process is important.
After you are gone from this life, you will not be able to clarify any of your last wishes. Would-be benefactors may present documents they insist are your will. People may come forward claiming to be your rightful heirs. Creditors may contact your family and demand payment for outstanding debts. Probate is the process that satisfies your creditors, validates your heirs and ensures they receive what is rightfully theirs from your estate.
What difference does a will make?
Whether you have a will or die before preparing one, your estate goes through probate. The difference is that if you die without a will, the court distributes your estate according to the law, which may not match your wishes. For example, you may wish to leave your assets to your beloved sister and nothing to your double-crossing brother, who are your closest living relatives. Without a will stating this, the court will likely give your double-crossing brother half of your assets.
Even if you write a will, probate can protect your wishes if someone contests the will. People can contest your will for very few reasons, for example:
- They believe you were not aware of what you were doing when you signed the will.
- They have proof that someone coerced you into making the will or changing its terms.
- There were some improprieties when you executed your will, for example, you did not have the appropriate witnesses.
- No one can contest your will just because they disagree with your decisions.
While your estate goes through probate, your executor takes care of your final taxes, pays off your bills and protects your assets until the court is satisfied that everything is in order. Your estate will likely pay a fee to whoever takes on these challenging duties.
The bottom line is that, although there are legitimate ways to bypass probate, by completing careful estate planning and choosing an estate executor wisely, you can minimize the negative impact probate may have on your loved ones and ensure that your final wishes are honored. For assistance in this endeavor, you may benefit from contacting a legal advocate with extensive knowledge in Florida probate laws.