Can I Set Up an Estate Plan that Completely Avoids Probate?

Fully protecting your heirs from the probate process may be possible, but it is seldom a realistic goal when setting up your estate plan. A better goal might be to set up your estate so the most important assets go to your heirs without probate issues that can diminish their value. Regardless of the size of your estate, an experienced Raleigh wills lawyer can work with you to analyze your current holdings and future expectations, and develop a plan that works for you now — and protects your heirs in the future.

Once the North Carolina probate court establishes whether a will exists, its primary role is to address outstanding creditor claims. This is typically accomplished through the liquidation of estate assets, with the proceeds going to creditors. The court then manages the distribution of remaining assets to lawful heirs, if no will exists, or to the named heirs in the decedent’s will. However, the courts cannot sell non-probate property, which is typically owned by other parties. As explained in the Citizen’s Handbook available from the North Carolina Bar Association, a common way to keep assets out of probate is by means of survivorship property, such as a home, or bank accounts jointly owned by spouses, with full ownership passing to the surviving spouse.

Another way to avoid ownership issues is to place assets into a living trust. In this case, you transfer specified items out of your ownership into a legal entity that technically owns them. You can retain control over the assets during your life, but they are out of reach of the probate courts upon your death. Of course, this is a very simple explanation of how trusts work. Since they require periodic maintenance, you need an experienced wills and trusts attorney in North Carolina to explain the specific considerations, help you handle maintenance issues and make sure distribution is handled properly at the end of your life.

Every adult should have a will, and it is never too early to begin developing an effective estate plan. The attorneys at Hatch, Little & Bunn, L.L.P. take our role as counselors, confidants and advisors seriously because you and your heirs deserve nothing less than our best. Contact us to learn how we can help.

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