No. Actually, it is not that difficult to avoid the probate process altogether. There are some easy ways to ensure that your property passes to your heirs, as you choose, without being required to go through the probate process. There are many estate planning tools that can be used for this purpose. Some of these tools include revocable living trusts, gifts, joint ownership of property, and payable-on-death accounts and registrations. Consult with an estate planning attorney in Arkansas to determine which of these tools may be suitable for your needs.
Revocable Living Trust
A living trust is a very useful estate planning tool designed to allow individuals to avoid probate. Generally speaking, a trust document is very similar to a will. The main difference is that a trust provides the advantage of holding the valuable property you place in the trust so that it does not become part of your estate after your death. For federal estate tax purposes, the property will still be considered part of your estate, however.
The trust property is not considered part of your probate estate at your death because it is the trustee who actually owns the property, not you. But, you still get to determine how the property will be distributed upon your death. Your trustee will be able to quickly and simply transfer your trust property to the heirs you intended, without going through the probate process.
Another easy way to avoid probate is to give property away as gifts while you are still alive. Essentially, if you no longer own the property when you die, the property is not required to go through probate. Giving away property means the value of your estate will decrease. Consequently, probate will be less expensive for you, as the cost of probate is directly related to the value of your assets at the time of your death. Another advantage of giving is that all gifts of $14,000 or less, are eligible for the Annual Gift Tax Exclusion, meaning they are not subject to federal gift tax.
Joint Ownership of Property
Joint ownership is another common way to avoid probate. With joint ownership, the surviving joint owner retains ownership of the property if the other joint owner dies. The transfer of ownership occurs without going through the probate process. There are different types of joint ownership available. So, discuss your options with an Arkansas estate planning attorney.
Payable-on-Death Accounts and Registrations
Another very simple method is to convert your bank account or retirement account into a payable-on-death account. All you have to do is complete a form that lists a beneficiary of the account. That way, at your death, the money in the account will be transferred directly to your named beneficiary without the need for probate.
The same can be done with vehicle or security registrations in many states, including Arkansas. In Arkansas, you can also execute a transfer-on-death deed for real estate. The deed would actually include a list of beneficiaries within the document itself. The beneficiary provision would only take effect after your death and the property itself would not need to go through the probate process.