Why Do You Want to Avoid Probate?
Probate is both costly and time-consuming and often presents a difficult procedural headache for surviving family members after the death of a loved one. In some limited instances, probate may be preferable—but these are very much the exception. On the whole, it is typically advisable to take the necessary steps to avoid probate altogether. The following represent major reasons why you would want to probate:
Length: typically 7-12 months (or longer) from death to discharge of the estate. In most cases, probate simply cannot be administered in less than about 7 months.
Cost: between legal fees, courts costs, notice and publication fees, probate sometimes costs between 4% and 10% of the gross estate
Hassle: length/cost (as mentioned above) but the inherent court procedure, potential hearings and court filings require ongoing attention for several months
Privacy: probate is public record, with much information being available to the public
A trust can be a wonderful tool to help set in place an estate plan that accomplishes your goals. Situations, goals and life circumstances vary, so there really is no across-the-board answer as to whether a trust “makes sense” for a particular demographic of clients. Ultimately, putting in place a trust usually makes the best sense when a client wants to (i) avoid probate upon their death, and/or (ii) use assets, property and money for a specific purpose after their death. First, while there are some other ways to avoid probate, a trust generally does so in the simplest and most comprehensive fashion. Second, a trust is generally the only effective tool at carrying out plans or wishes that assets be used for a certain defined purpose after death. This can be particularly important when money will be needed to raise children or to fund education. However, the ability to control how assets are used is also tremendously important in circumstances where the (now deceased) creator of the trust wants to ensure that assets are not wasted away, wants to provide periodic payments for support, wants to delay all or some of the distributions and/or wants to provide for someone whose judgment or capacities may not be up to managing a large some of money. In working with clients, I view a trust as a potential tool to accomplish the goals and plans of my client. Sometimes, we do not recommend a trust because it is just not needed to accomplish those goals. However, in many instances, this tool becomes very important and is a critical part of setting in place a comprehensive, complete and meaningful estate plan.