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I often ask attendees of my presentations if they have been told “probate” is something to avoid.  Invariably, I see several heads nodding “yes.”  Many are not sure why they are supposed to avoid probate.  However, the most common reason I am told is that probate is too expensive.    

Unfortunately, since most people are not sure if probate is even necessary, they have no way to know what cost, if any, is appropriate.  This can lead to situations in which people are taken advantage of.  I am aware of situations in which people paid twice what probate would have cost to obtain a trust.  Why did they want a trust?  Because they were told probate was too expensive and a trust was a way around probate.  Obviously, these people were never actually told what probate would cost; only that it was a cost they should avoid.  And, as I will explain in a future column, they may still have to go through probate! 

We all want to avoid unnecessary expense.  However, in some cases, probate is a necessary and appropriate expense.  Proper estate planning should include a discussion about whether probate will be necessary.  If it will be necessary, that discussion should address the anticipated cost of probate and the existence of effective alternatives.  These are important issues that cannot be addressed by downloading a form from the internet. 

Last column I gave examples when probate may be necessary.  However, there is no simple answer for every circumstance.  These are issues that need to be addressed with the guidance of qualified professionals.    The consequences of failing to do so can be significant.  Even worse, it may be those you are attempting to protect who must face those consequences. 

With that background, next column I will address two ways I see people commonly attempt to avoid probate.  Both are very dangerous in my opinion. 

Come to a free presentation to find out the best way for you to pass on your assets without unnecessary risk or cost.