As an estate planning attorney, a central goal that I preach is for my clients to avoid probate. Most of my clients associate probate with something akin to the plague and people like bankers, insurance agents, financial advisors, TV hosts and society at large have done a good job educating clients on the simple premise that they should avoid probate at all costs.
But why? Most people would guess the expense. That is certainly a legitimate reason. In Missouri, a probate administration can lead to costs to the court, big expenses being paid to your personal representative (also known as the executor) and, if you want the easy version of probate in Missouri, independent administration, the services of a knowledgeable and experienced probate attorney.
In a recent probate, an approximately $450,000 estate ended up costing about $1,000 in costs to the court for filing fees, inventory fees and various other expenses and approximately $31,000 in fees split equally between the personal representative and attorney .
That’s a lot of money and completely avoidable with estate planning. But to me the underrated reasons to avoid probate are:
In Missouri, an estate cannot be closed for at least six months. Best case, therefore, you are looking at a 180 day process. In most cases, you can add at least a couple of months, if not more. In some cases, the estate won’t be closed for at least a year, sometimes longer. So, not only have you lost a loved one, but now as a beneficiary or heir of an estate you have to wait a long time to get your inheritance!
I work on probates every day and while I do a great job for my clients I have to say….I don’t like doing them. St. Charles County has a terrific probate division but many of my probates are in St. Louis County and they are a nightmare to deal with. Every county has a different set of procedural details that must constantly be adhered to, which is tough because those details seem to change by the month. Probates are comparable to getting your teeth pulled. The smallest details can delay them for days and even weeks.
3. Family Issues
Imagine with your family who would be more than a little bit anxious / conspiratorial about an inheritance owed to them. If someone makes out a will and then dies, unlike on TV, there is generally not a reading of the will. That is largely a Hollywood created fiction. In larger estates with a variety of distant relation family members or different beneficiaries (like people that don’t know each other), it might make sense to have a will reading. So people think that something is being hidden from them when the personal representative and the attorney for the estate don’t just cut them a check. Probates cause family tensions and in families where there is already tension, it can only aggravate things.
Here’s the silver lining: It is easier than ever to avoid probate with a living trust or even without a living trust under some circumstances. All you need to do first is sit down and meet with an estate planning lawyer to find out how. Heck, our office offers a free initial consultation. By the end of that meeting, you’ll know what you need and how much it costs…and how much avoiding probate will save you.