Understanding Probate and How to Avoid It - Part 2

In part one of this series, we explored the probate process and its potential drawbacks for your family. Now, in part two, we'll delve deeper into the ways you can help your loved ones avoid probate with wise planning.

The Challenges of Probate for Your Family

Probate can be a lengthy process, burdening your loved ones during a difficult time. The costs, both in terms of time and emotional strain, can be significant. Additionally, there are several potential consequences your family might face if you don't plan ahead. Immediate access to your assets can become a challenge, leading to financial hardship. Your family may need to hire a lawyer, leading to attorney fees, with the risk of choosing an unresponsive attorney. Court costs, executor's compensation, and other administrative expenses can further deplete your estate. Probate is also a public process, exposing your estate's details and making your beneficiaries potential targets for scams. Furthermore, family conflict can arise, especially in cases of unequal distribution or contested wills.

Assets That Don't Require Probate

Not all assets need to go through probate, even without an estate plan. Assets with beneficiary designations, such as retirement accounts, IRAs, 401(k)s, life insurance, payable-on-death (POD) bank accounts, and transfer-on-death (TOD) property (bonds, stocks, vehicles, real estate), pass directly to designated beneficiaries without probate. Assets with the right of survivorship, like joint tenancy, tenancy by the entirety, and community property with the right of survivorship, also bypass probate, but it's essential to ensure proper beneficiary designations are in place.

Revocable Living Trust

One of the most effective tools for avoiding probate is a revocable living trust. This trust is a legal agreement between the grantor (you) and the trustee (you, during your lifetime) to hold assets for the benefit of the beneficiary (also you during your lifetime). In the event of your death or incapacity, a successor trustee takes over the management of the trust, allowing assets to be transferred without court intervention. A revocable living trust offers control over asset distribution, can include specific instructions, and protects assets from creditors, lawsuits, and divorce.

Key Benefits of a Living Trust

A revocable living trust, when properly set up and funded, allows your loved ones to inherit assets without going to court. The trust offers greater control over distribution, allowing you to stipulate conditions or life events for distribution. Assets held in the trust are protected from beneficiaries' creditors, lawsuits, and divorce. The process remains private and is not part of the public record, ensuring privacy for your family during asset transfer.

Transferring Assets into a Living Trust

To ensure the proper functioning of a trust, assets must be titled in the trust's name, a process known as "funding" the trust. Proper funding is crucial to avoid assets going through probate. It's essential to work with a Estate Planning Lawyer to ensure your trust is correctly funded, and your asset inventory stays updated over time.

Life & Legacy Planning

Every family's circumstances are unique, and a living trust might be the ideal solution for some, but not all. The best way to determine the right estate planning strategies is to consult with an Estate Planning Lawyer for a Legacy Planning Session. This session will analyze your assets, priorities, and the well-being of your loved ones in the event of your passing or incapacity. Our Legacy Planning Process empowers you to make informed decisions that align with your family's needs, dynamics, and budget. Contact us today to start planning to leave behind a legacy instead of a mess.

Understanding Probate and How to Avoid It - Part 1

Without a comprehensive estate plan, your assets may be subjected to probate, a court process that can be time-consuming, expensive, and public. Avoiding probate is a key goal of most estate plans, aimed at keeping your family out of court. In this two-part series, we'll delve into the probate process, its requirements, and explore strategies to help your loved ones avoid it through wise planning.

Probate is required for individuals with no estate plan, those with only a will, or when a will is deemed invalid. Even with a will, probate is inevitable upon your passing. To prevent your family from facing probate and potential conflict, it's essential to go beyond just having a will and utilize additional estate planning methods.

Dying without a will results in intestacy, where probate is needed to settle debts and distribute assets based on state laws. Priority typically goes to spouses, children, parents, siblings, and more distant relatives, with assets going to the state if no living heirs are found. Some states offer simplified probate for estates with a low value.

How Probate Works

Authenticating the Validity of Your Will

Your executor files the will and death certificate, initiating probate. The court authenticates the will, ensuring it complies with state law. Beneficiaries and potential heirs are notified and can contest the will's validity.

Appointing the Executor or Administrator

The court formally appoints the executor named in the will or selects a personal representative for intestate cases. A bond might be required for the executor, acting as insurance for potential errors during probate.

Locating & Valuing Your Assets

The executor identifies and appraises all assets, including those not listed in estate planning documents. A comprehensive asset inventory is crucial to prevent assets from being lost.

Notifying & Paying Your Creditors:

Creditors are notified, and valid claims are paid from the estate funds. A limited period is given for creditors to make claims, which the executor can challenge.

Filing & Paying Your Taxes

The executor handles outstanding taxes, including income, capital gains, and estate taxes, if applicable. Most families won't face estate taxes due to high exemption thresholds.

Distribution of Your Remaining Assets

After debts and taxes are paid, the executor petitions the court to distribute assets to beneficiaries according to the will or intestate laws. Once completed, a petition is filed to formally close probate.


Probate can burden your family with unnecessary time, expenses, and publicity. Proactive estate planning can spare your loved ones from this process. In the next part of this series, we'll explore strategies to avoid probate and keep your family out of court. Consider working with us, your Estate Planning Lawyer, for a Legacy Planning Session to create a comprehensive estate plan tailored to your needs. You can schedule an appointment with us today to get your affairs in order.

Next week, in part two, we’ll discuss the estate planning strategies that you can use to avoid the need for your loved ones to go through probate.

Estate Planning 101: Wills vs. Trusts

Wills and trusts are fundamental components of estate planning, serving as legal tools to distribute your assets among your loved ones after your passing. However, these two documents work differently in various aspects.

When They Become Effective

When they take effect, wills become effective only upon your death, while trusts take effect immediately after signing and transferring assets to the trust (also known as "funding" the trust). A will designates asset distribution after death, whereas a trust specifies how assets are managed and distributed both before and after death, including in cases of incapacity.


An important distinction is that a will solely governs assets owned in your name, excluding joint tenancy properties and assets with beneficiary designations like life insurance policies, IRAs, and 401(k)s. On the other hand, a trust covers assets that have been transferred to the trust or where the trust is designated as the beneficiary. It is crucial to work with an Estate Planning Lawyer to ensure proper funding of the trust.

To learn more about Probate, and why it is important to get a trust in order to avoid probate. Check out our Vlog, where we explain what probate is, and what it entails.


Administration differs significantly between wills and trusts. Wills on their own require probate, a court-supervised process to ensure asset distribution aligns with your wishes. Probate can be lengthy, costly, and may result in disputes among family members. Conversely, trusts bypass probate, saving time, money, and potential conflicts, while also maintaining privacy.


Regarding costs, will-based estate plans are generally less expensive upfront compared to trust-based plans. However, probate costs for wills can be high, making trusts potentially more cost-effective in the long run. The best approach varies for each family, considering individual circumstances, assets, and preferences.

What is Best for You

To determine the most suitable solution for your family, consult an Estate Planning Lawyer for a Legacy Planning Session. This comprehensive process will help you select the right planning tools at the appropriate fees, tailored to your needs and your loved ones' welfare.

Take advantage of our Legacy Planning Process, where we analyze your assets and priorities to devise a personalized estate plan. By meeting with your Estate Planning Lawyer, you'll gain full confidence in your chosen estate planning approach, considering your unique situation, family dynamics, and budget. Schedule an appointment today to get started.

4 Reasons Estate Planning is so Essential for Business Owners – Part 4

#4 | The Perils of Appointing a Family Member to Run Your Business Without a Detailed Succession Plan

If you appoint a family member to take over your business after your passing without providing them a detailed plan, a few poor decisions can lead to the ruin of your company. Countless stories abound of family members inheriting multi-million-dollar businesses and mismanaging them, resulting in rapid decline. Even smaller operations like yours are at risk of suffering a similar fate.

Besides the risk of total destruction, your successor's radically different management style can cause conflicts among your staff, clients, and family. Simply naming a successor is insufficient to ensure the business's stability and prosperity.

Estate Planning Solution

An estate planning solution in the form of a comprehensive business succession plan can safeguard your company's future. Beyond designating a successor, such plans establish detailed instructions for running the business. They cover ownership transfer, compensation and promotions rules, and dispute resolution procedures, providing a roadmap for continued success after your passing or retirement.

To complete your estate plan and secure your business, our Legacy Planning Process, led by your Estate Planning Lawyer, will create a thorough estate plan. This plan guarantees that the business and wealth you worked hard to build will not only survive but thrive, regardless of what the future holds.

Moreover, our estate plans encompass legacy planning services, allowing you to preserve and communicate your most cherished values, stories, and mementos to your loved ones. Working with us ensures that your business and legacy will offer maximum benefits to those you hold dear.

Our approach to estate planning goes beyond preparing for death and distributing your assets; it is about planning for a life filled with what you love and leaving behind a meaningful legacy through the choices you make today. This comprehensive service is why we call it Legacy Planning. Initiate the process today by scheduling a Legacy Planning Session.

4 Reasons Estate Planning is so Essential for Business Owners – Part 3

#3 |Navigating the Impact of a Business Partner's Passing: Managing Ownership Changes and Financial Obligations

If you're in a business partnership, having a solid plan in place is essential to handle unforeseen events like departures, deaths, divorces, or incapacitations of any co-owner. Without a legally binding strategy and sufficient funds to execute it, your business could face potential conflicts and complications.

Imagine your business partner passes away without a plan, and their children inherit their ownership share in your business. Suddenly, you might find yourself in business with your partner's kids or forced to pay an inflated price for their share. A similar predicament could arise if your partner gets divorced, and their former spouse is granted a portion of the company in the divorce settlement.

Estate Planning Solution

The solution lies in a well-crafted buy-sell agreement. This agreement clearly outlines what happens in case an owner departs due to various reasons, including death, incapacity, or divorce.

For instance, a buy-sell agreement can ensure that in the event of specific triggers like retirement, death, or permanent incapacity, the remaining owners have the option to purchase the departing partner's share of the business. This not only prevents unexpected new partners but also safeguards your loved ones from being stuck with an unwanted and unsellable business.

However, a buy-sell agreement alone is not enough; you also need a reliable source of funding for the surviving owners to buy out the shares of a deceased partner. Life insurance is often the ideal solution. Each owner can be covered by a life insurance policy, and upon the unfortunate event of an owner's passing, the company receives the death benefit to buy out the deceased owner's share and/or compensate their heirs.

By implementing a comprehensive buy-sell agreement and securing adequate life insurance, you can protect the future of your business and avoid potential challenges that could otherwise arise.

4 Reasons Estate Planning is so Essential for Business Owners – Part 2

#2 | Secure Your Business Assets: Why Naming a Legal Representative is Vital in Case of Illness or Injury

Relying solely on a will for business protection can pose significant challenges, especially if you face incapacitation due to accident or illness. Wills only take effect after death, offering no safeguard for your business during periods of incapacity. Without a comprehensive estate plan, the court may appoint a financial guardian or conservator to take control of your business until you recover.

The court process associated with guardianship can be lengthy and costly, creating further complications for your business. Additionally, the appointed guardian may not manage your company exactly as you would, leading to disruptions and potential conflicts within your team and family, especially if your absence is prolonged.

Estate Planning Solution

Fortunately, there's a proactive estate planning solution – the durable financial power of attorney. By creating a durable financial power of attorney, you can designate a trusted individual to handle your business and financial affairs if you become unable to do so yourself. In case of illness or injury, this authorized person will have the legal power to manage payroll, sign documents, and make financial decisions on your behalf.

Embracing the durable financial power of attorney not only expedites the expense and delays linked to the guardianship process but also ensures that someone you trust will be managing your company and financial interests during your incapacitation, rather than leaving the decision in the hands of the court. Protect your business's future by taking control of your estate plan today.

4 Reasons Estate Planning is so Essential for Business Owners – Part 1

As a business owner, it's natural to prioritize immediate concerns like meeting payroll or achieving quarterly growth targets over estate planning. However, neglecting to plan for the possibility of incapacity or death can have serious repercussions for your business, team, clients, and family.

Your business and estate planning are intricately linked, and your company is likely the most valuable asset your family depends on. Proper estate planning is not just essential for your business's continuity but also for the well-being of your loved ones.

Failing to have a comprehensive estate plan in place can leave your team, clients, and family vulnerable to significant challenges. Thankfully, you can safeguard against these risks with a few fundamental estate planning strategies.

Over the next few weeks, we will address four critical issues that your company and family may encounter due to inadequate estate planning. We will also provide practical estate planning solutions to help you prevent and mitigate these potential problems.

Don't leave the future of your business and loved ones to chance. Discover why estate planning is a top priority for business owners and secure your company's success and your family's future today.

#1 | Expand Your Estate Plan Beyond a Will: Avoid Probate for Your Business and Assets Upon Death

When it comes to estate planning, many individuals tend to focus solely on creating a will. While a will allows you to designate someone to inherit your business, it may not be the most optimal option. The reason is that assets passed through a will must go through probate, a court process that can be time-consuming, costly, and public.

During probate, the court oversees the distribution of your assets, including your business, according to your wishes. This process can disrupt your business operations, affect cash flow, and expose your affairs to competitors. Moreover, your family and team may face challenges accessing essential assets until probate is completed. Legal fees during probate can also deplete your company's resources.

Worse still, if disputes arise during probate, especially with a lucrative business at stake, it can lead to bitter court battles that divide your family and cripple your company for years.

Estate Planning Solution

Fortunately, there's a superior estate planning solution: placing your business in a trust. Whether it's a revocable living trust, an irrevocable trust, or a combination of both, a trust allows for the seamless transfer of your company to your chosen beneficiaries upon your death or incapacity, without going through probate.

With your business held in a trust, the transition of control can happen quickly and privately, without court intervention. Trusts also offer protection from creditors and lawsuits, shielding your business and its assets.

To ensure your business's continued success after you're gone, consider the benefits of a trust in your estate plan. Secure your business's future and protect your loved ones from unnecessary challenges by exploring the advantages of trust-based estate planning. Contact us today to get started on your estate plan today.

Estate Planning Must Haves for Parents

A well-rounded estate plan goes beyond preserving your assets; it also secures the future of those you love, especially your children. Imagine a scenario where both you and your child's other parent become incapacitated or pass away unexpectedly—have you designated someone you trust to care for your child? Is this person capable of handling the financial assets you leave behind?

Furthermore, consider the short-term care arrangements for your children. If you rely on babysitters, would they know what to do if you didn't return home? Without proper planning, your child might end up with strangers while authorities figure out what to do.

Even if you have taken the initiative to name legal guardians in your Will, there could still be risks. Your decisions might not account for incapacity, geographical distance, or potential challenges to your choices.

To ensure your children are cared for by the right people, following your wishes, and never taken into the care of strangers, a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan is crucial. This specialized plan, available from select lawyers like us, guarantees that your kids' well-being is fully provided for in the short-term and long-term, even in the event of your incapacity.

If you're ready to take the essential step in securing your family's future, consult with us as your Estate Planning Lawyers. We will guide you through the process of creating a comprehensive Kids Protection Plan, including naming a legal guardian in your Will and ensuring your child's care is well-managed under any circumstances. With our assistance, you can rest assured that your entire family will be protected and cared for, no matter what the future holds. Contact us today to get started.

Estate Planning Checkup: Is Your Estate Plan Up to Date?

Creating an estate plan is a vital step in protecting what matters most to you—your assets and your loved ones. However, a common mistake many people make is assuming that once they have an estate plan, they are set for life. In reality, estate planning is an ongoing process that should evolve alongside your life circumstances, changing assets, and evolving laws.

Regularly updating your estate plan is crucial to ensure it remains effective and relevant for your family's future. Life is full of changes, and your plan should adapt accordingly. Here are several key life events that demand immediate updates to your estate plan:


After tying the knot, it's essential to update your plan to reflect your new relationship status. This includes designating your spouse as a beneficiary, granting powers of attorney, and adjusting your will and trust.


Failing to update your estate plan after a divorce can lead to unwanted consequences. You'll want to remove your former spouse from your plan and make adjustments to reflect your new asset profile and living situation.

Welcoming a Child

The birth or adoption of a child calls for naming guardians to care for them in the short and long term. Estate planning vehicles like a trust can be put in place to ensure your child inherits assets appropriately.

Death of a Loved One

The passing of a family member or friend may necessitate updating beneficiaries, executors, and guardians in your plan.

Serious Illness or Injury

In the event of a serious illness or injury, you may wish to revise the individuals responsible for handling your healthcare decisions.

Relocating to a New State

Different states have varying estate planning laws, so if you move, your plan should comply with your new location's legal requirements.

Significant Changes in Assets or Liabilities

Major changes in your estate's value, such as inheritance or new loans, require adjustments to your plan.

Buying or Selling a Business

Business owners should create a buy-sell agreement and business succession plan to protect their company and family. Tax-savings opportunities related to business transactions should also be explored.

In Conclusion

Updating your estate plan is essential, as it prevents potential issues and ensures your family is protected according to your latest wishes. Our Estate Planning Lawyers are here to support you in regularly updating your plan and making sure it reflects your current needs and goals. With our comprehensive approach, we provide ongoing services that extend beyond creating documents, fostering a lasting relationship with you and your family, ensuring your plan remains up-to-date for generations to come. Contact us today to begin the process.

Why Everyone Needs to Keep Their Estate Plan Updated

As the world and its laws continue to evolve, everyone needs to keep their estate plans up to date. An estate plan is a set of documents, such as a will or trust, that dictate how assets will be distributed upon death or incapacity. An individual's current legal and financial situation should be considered to create a comprehensive estate plan tailored specifically to their needs.

Ensure Your Wishes Are Respected

The primary reason to update an estate plan is to ensure that an individual's wishes are respected upon death. For example, suppose an individual has recently acquired valuable property or has had changes in family structure (such as marriage or children). In that case, updating the documents that outline how assets should be distributed is important. If the documents are not updated, this could lead to disputes between family members and legal complications when probate occurs. Additionally, if laws change at the state or federal level, those changes need to be incorporated into the existing estate plan to remain valid and effective. 

Ensure Your Loved Ones Are Protected From Tax Implications

Another reason for updating an estate plan is for future tax planning purposes. Without proper planning and asset allocation, taxes can significantly reduce the amount that beneficiaries receive after one's death. Additionally, some states have transfer taxes on certain assets (such as real estate), which must be factored into one’s estate planning decisions. In addition, changes in Federal tax law may affect whether other taxes, such as capital gains tax, applies at the time of death or while transferring assets during life – thus providing additional incentive for individuals to review their plans regularly with their advisors and make necessary updates when necessary. 

Ensure Your Medical Decisions Are Handled With Care

Estate planning also encompasses contingency plans in case of incapacity due to illness or injury – commonly referred to as disability planning. This means creating end-of-life documents such as Advance Health Care Directives which list specific instructions about medical treatments that should be administered if certain conditions arise – such as if a person suffers from dementia or a traumatic brain injury and can no longer make decisions on their behalf. This planning can provide peace of mind knowing that an individual’s wishes will be respected even if they cannot make decisions themselves due to illness or injury. 

Ensure You Leave a Legacy For Your Loved Ones

Finally, updating an estate plan allows people to express gratitude for those who have helped them over the years - whether it be through providing advice on financial matters or being there simply by offering emotional support during difficult times - by including them in a legacy interview with our firm. Specific instructions can also be included in your plan regarding how charitable donations should be handled after death - enabling individuals who wish to donate part of their wealth to leave behind a lasting legacy that furthers causes they believe in long after they pass away. 

Keep Your Estate Plan Up-To-Date

In conclusion, having an up-to-date estate plan helps ensure that your wishes are respected upon incapacity or death; protects you from unnecessary taxes; helps with disability planning; and allows you the chance to express appreciation towards those who have had a positive impact on your life while still alive. Therefore, estate plans should consider current circumstances and anticipate future events to avoid any potential problems. Contact us today with your questions about your current plan and if you need an update.