For Mark Roberts’ Use: Like most people, you might have given some thought to what will happen to your assets after your death. You have signed beneficiary forms and told close family members which possession you would like for them to inherit. However, even if everyone heeds your requests, your estate will be subject to lengthy court proceedings unless you take steps now to prevent the probate process.

The purpose of probate court is to settle disputes over your estate (if they exist) and to distribute your assets according to your final wishes. The process can last from about nine months to two years, assuming your estate is not unusually complex or subject to unusual amounts of disagreement. Any assets you leave to your heirs, including cash and property, will not be distributed to them until the court proceedings are finished. They might incur court and attorney fees in the meantime, making the probate process a stressful and expensive ordeal.

Another downside to the probate process is that the affairs of your estate will be publicly recorded. A simple check of court records will disclose how much money each of your heirs inherited. In some cases public records can be used for nefarious reasons, leaving your loved ones little privacy and even subject to con artists who seek to take advantage of them.

The good news is that your estate does not have to be processed through the probate process, if you establish a trust ahead of your death. A trust allows you to pass your estate directly to your heirs, bypassing the time and expense of court proceedings.

Since trusts can be subject to complex tax rules, and can incur administrative fees, you should seek the advice of an experienced estate planning attorney along with a financial advisor. For more information on the benefits of a trust, or financial planning advice in general, call our office to schedule an appointment.