Most states have laws in place that require anyone who is in possession of the deceased's will to file it with the probate court as soon as is reasonably possible. An application or petition to open probate of the estate is usually done at the same time. Sometimes it's necessary to file the death certificate as well, along with the will and the petition.
As a general rule, a will has no legal effect until it is probated. A will should be probated immediately, and no one has the right to suppress it. The person with possession of a will, usually the personal representative or the decedent's attorney, must produce it. Statutes impose penalties for concealing or destroying a will or for failing to produce it within a specified time.
This is another strategy that can be used to limit death taxes. It involves an individual locking in the current value and thus, tax liability, of their property, while attributing the value of future growth of that capital property to another person. Any increase that occurs in the value of the assets in the future is transferred to the benefit of another person, such as a spouse, child, or grandchild.
A trust may be used as an estate planning tool, to direct the distribution of assets after the person who creates the trust passes away. Trusts may be used to provide for the distribution of funds for the benefit of minor children or developmentally disabled children. For example, a spendthrift trust may be used to prevent wasteful spending by a spendthrift child, or a special needs trust may be used for developmentally disabled children or adults. Trusts offer a high degree of control over management and disposition of assets. Furthermore, certain types of trust provisions can provide for the management of wealth for several generations past the settlor. Typically referred to as dynasty planning, these types of trust provisions allow for the protection of wealth for several generations after a person's death.
If no formal probate proceeding is necessary, the court does not appoint an estate administrator. Instead, a close relative or friend serves as an informal estate representative. Normally, families and friends choose this person, and it is not uncommon for several people to share the responsibilities of paying debts, filing a final income tax return and distributing property to the people who are supposed to get it.
All legal procedures concerned with probate (as defined above) come within the jurisdiction of the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice by virtue of Section 25 of the Senior Courts Act 1981. The High Court is, therefore, the only body able to issue documents that confer on someone the ability to deal with a deceased person's estate—close bank accounts or sell property. It is the production and issuing of these documents, known collectively as grants of representation, that is the primary function of the Probate Registries, which are part of the High Court, which the general public and probate professionals alike apply to for grants of representation.
The cost of an estate plan depends largely on the number of parts it includes and the complexity of the documents. The most basic estate plan is simply a will, but it may also include designating power of attorney or a health care proxy to another person, writing a living will, or making a HIPAA authorization. The average national cost to make an estate plan ranges from $350 to $900, but can cost much more in complicated situations. For example, an estate attorney may charge only $900 to prepare a basic will providing outright distribution — meaning that property and assets are distributed upon death. Writing a more complicated will and holding assets in trusts can cost $3,000, or more. The process of creating an estate plan generally takes two to four weeks, starting with the initial consultation with the wills attorney to identify areas of concern in order to design an estate plan that fits your goals and budget. Once an estate plan is written, the attorney meets with the clients, a notary, and two neutral witnesses to review and sign the plan and associated documents.
If you've changed jobs over the years, it's quite likely that you have several different 401(k) retirement plans still open with past employers or maybe even several different IRA accounts. You may want to consider consolidating these accounts into one individual IRA. Consolidating of accounts allows for better investment choices, lower costs, a larger selection of investments, less paperwork, and easier management.