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Probate Avoidance Strategies

Knowledgeable Houston Estate Planning Lawyers Helping Families Avoid Unnecessary Probate Expense and Delay

Families engage in the estate planning process for many reasons. However, one of the primary goals of estate planning is to preserve assets, either to pass them on to future generations or to donate them to charitable causes. At the Houston estate planning law firm of McCulloch & Miller, PLLC, our dedicated attorneys have decades of experience helping clients understand and implement the various probate avoidance strategies. With our help, you can ensure that your hard-earned assets are promptly transferred to the intended recipients.

What Is Probate?

Assets in an estate eventually pass on to those listed as beneficiaries listed in a last will and testament. However, before the executor distributes any estate assets, the will must go probate. Probate is a public, legal process in which a court validates a person’s will and ultimately approves the executor’s ability to distribute the assets under the terms of the will.

Unfortunately, the probate process often results in avoidable expense and delay. For example, the court must formally appoint an executor, who is responsible for settling all of the deceased’s debts before any estate assets are distributed. While the length of probate proceedings varies, they can take months, and in some cases, even longer. This can result in beneficiaries and heirs experiencing a significant delay in receiving any assets left to them in the will. Probate can also deplete estate assets.

Avoiding the Probate Process

While assets in an estate are subject to probate, there are steps to take that can reduce the assets that must go through probate:

Retitling Assets

Assets owned by more than one person are not required to go through probate. Instead, the asset will automatically transfer to the joint owner. This can apply to both financial accounts as well as real estate. Retitling assets is one of the easiest ways to avoid probate. However, there are risks with this approach. For example, the assets may be subject to claims against the joint account holder. You may also inadvertently disqualify you or the joint owner of future public benefits. Talk to an estate planning attorney before retitling any assets.

Beneficiary Designations

For certain types of accounts, such as IRAs, 401Ks, and other bank and brokerage accounts, account holders can list a beneficiary who will receive the assets upon the accountholder’s death. Doing so removes these assets from the probate process. It is important to keep in mind, however, that if the terms of a will contradict beneficiary designations, the beneficiary designation will control. Because of this, improper beneficiary designations might defeat the purpose and intent of your will.

Revocable Living Trusts

A revocable living trust is created during the life of the grantor. The grantor will name a trustee who oversees the trust. Often, grantors name themselves as the trustee to maintain control of the assets during their life. In this situation, the grantor will also name a successor trustee to take over the role once they die. The successor trustee is responsible for distributing the assets to the beneficiaries. Revocable living trusts are an effective probate avoidance strategy in that they allow individuals to maintain control of trust assets during their lifetime but also remove trust assets from the probate requirement.

While there are many probate avoidance strategies, no single strategy works for every family. Often, the best approach involves utilizing multiple strategies to maximize the assets that are not subject to probate.

Contact a Houston Probate Attorney at McCulloch & Miller, PLLC for Immediate Assistance

If you have not yet created an estate plan, or it has been years since you last updated your estate plan, reach out to McCulloch & Miller, PLLC, to learn more about the most current and effective probate avoidance strategies. Our dedicated Houston estate planning lawyers have decades of experience helping families preserve the value of their estate. We can help you preserve the value of your estate to maximize the assets available to your loved ones. To learn more, and to schedule a consultation, give McCulloch & Miller, PLLC, a call at (713) 333-8900. You can also connect with us by completing our online contact form.

Client Reviews
"In late February, 2020, I needed to file from out of state for successor Letters Testamentary in Harris County for my father's estate. The attorney I used, Ryan Cook, returned my call promptly, gave me the option of hourly or flat rate fee, explained what would be involved, then let his paralegal and other staff handle most of the contact with me. I worked with Crystal. She was very responsive and tech savvy. As the pandemic hit and communication everywhere was getting difficult and the probate court had limited access, these women continued to stay in touch and help me through the process, with us all working remotely. We were all experiencing a new way of being in the world and all three of them handled it with grace, humanity and efficiency." L.B.
"I would highly recommend this law firm because of their caring and professional staff. Mr. David Miller and Crystal Collins have gone above and beyond to help our family get all our elderly parents legal paperwork up to date. We are extremely appreciative for all they have done for us." A.B.
"I engaged the services of McCulloch & Miller to assist me with the difficult task of navigating Medicaid eligibility requirements for a close family member. I found them to be knowledgeable and thorough. Working with Darby was a pleasure. She took the worry and aggravation of dealing with a government entity off my shoulders. I highly recommend McCulloch and Miller for eldercare issues." B.S.
"We needed assistance with a Medicaid application and McCulloch & Miller were extremely helpful and expedited the paperwork promptly. We also greatly appreciated the professionalism, and caring manner in which Darby handled our case. If you need assistance, we highly recommend this firm!" P.M.