Probate is a process often shrouded in mystery. The extent of most people’s knowledge about probate is that it is something to be avoided. However, probate is pretty difficult, almost impossible to avoid. It’s much better to learn a little about probate so that you can reduce its negative effects on your estate.
When someone dies, all of their property gets lumped together into that person’s “estate.” Probate is simply the legal process by which someone’s estate gets parceled out to their living friends and family. The process is typically overseen by a judge or a clerk, and the length and cost of the process is largely determined by how well the deceased planned their estate.
One simple and easy estate planning tool is to simply make gifts in life. A probate court only looks at the property the deceased person owned at the time of death. Therefore, if you give something away during life, you have the satisfaction of knowing that it reached the proper person and the probate court will not consider it as part of your estate.
Another way to remove property from your estate is to put it in an “inter vivos trust,” which only means that you created the trust during your lifetime. A trust is a special account in which you can place any kind of property in the care of another person, called the trustee. At some point, which you can specify, the trustee will distribute the property to a beneficiary. Since you no longer own the property, the probate court cannot touch it
However, the probate court can administer any property that is not given away in life or in a trust. Hopefully, the deceased person has written a will. A will can take care of some basic provisions, like naming a executor, or naming your beneficiaries, which the court would have to do on its own in the absence of the will. Additionally, Illinois offers a quicker form of the process when there is a will present and it is not contested.
While many of these steps can be taken on one’s own, the best way to ensure that your estate spends the least amount of time in probate is to consult with a local estate planning attorney.