Jennifer C. Rydberg, Attorney at Law
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Avoiding probate and picking an executor

For those in Washington who are in the estate planning process, avoiding probate and picking an executor can have an important impact on estate administration. Both issues require serious long-term planning.

Probate is the legal procedure for transferring a person's assets to their heirs. It provides public notice to creditors for filing claims against the estate. It generally takes six months to undergo probate.

When the value of an estate is under a certain amount, it does not have to undergo this process. Certain assets are also excluded from probate. Property that is jointly owned with right of survivorship, life insurance policies, 401(k)s, pensions and individual retirement account may not pass through probate if a beneficiary is named.

Placing assets in a revocable living trust may be another effective way to exclude these assets from probate. This trust may can be changed or cancelled at any time.

Keep in mind, there are some disadvantages to revocable living trusts. They may be expensive when the estate is complicated. There is no time limit on filing a legal challenge to this trust. Finally, using this trust requires ongoing attention to financial matters. For example, real estate titles may have to be transferred.

Selecting an executor is also important. This is the person who has the legal responsibility of ensuring that that the testator's wishes for the estate are carried out, that assets are transferred properly and that bills, taxes and debts are paid.

It is important to name a person who can handle this job now and not wait until they are competent in the future. A family member should be selected only if they are qualified to perform these duties. Unless an executor is named in the will, the court will appoint one.

If there is no one available to satisfactorily perform these duties, a professional executor may be appointed. Banks and trust companies often employ these experts. However, they may charge a fee equal to 2 to 5 percent of the estate. Geography may also be an important consideration, because an executor may have to go to the deceased's banks and accountant.

Complexities in estates can make legal assistance important to ensure that a will reflects the testator's intent and to avoid legal problems for heirs. A lawyer can help with will planning and ensure that these documents are drafted properly.

Source: Next Avenue, "Probate, wills, executors: Your estate planning questions answered," Richard Eisenberg, April 7, 2017

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