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What Property Goes Through Probate?

Estate planning attorneys have long counseled clients to avoid probate, the court managed process of distributing a deceased person’s property and assets to his or her heirs. In Oklahoma, the time to complete a probate case ranges from 3-4 months for simple estates to a year or more for complex estates with property to be sold or where objections and creditor’s claims have been lodged. Furthermore, probate can be expensive — costing several thousand dollars. Lastly, there is no privacy in probate: your will has to be filed with the Court, and all of the details of your estate become public knowledge.

How do you avoid probate? The answer lies in how your property and assets are owned. The probate courts have jurisdiction over property and assets that are owned solely in the name of the deceased. For example, the title to a house is “Bob Smith”. By contrast, property and assets owned in joint tenancy, i.e. “Bob Smith and Susie Smith, as joint tenants with rights of survivorship”, pass automatically to the survivor upon the death of the first owner to die. The same is true of payable-on-death and beneficiary designations, which are common for retirement accounts and life insurance policies. Another way to avoid probate is by establishing a revocable living trust. Whenever you create a revocable living trust, ownership of your property and assets will be transferred to the trust and thus will not be subject to probate at your death.

Joint tenancy, payable-on-death and beneficiary designations and the revocable living trust: this is how to avoid probate. If you want to spare your loved ones significant time, expense and loss of privacy after you pass away, consider these options in your estate planning.