Some of the decedent's property may never enter probate because it passes to another person contractually, such as the death proceeds of an insurance policy insuring the decedent or bank or retirement account that names a beneficiary or is owned as "payable on death", and property (sometimes a bank or brokerage account) legally held as "jointly owned with right of survivorship".
Probate is required if the deceased person owned real property or if his or her other assets are above the threshold amount, which is usually $50,000 for major banks and lower thresholds for other financial institutions. Assets that had been “owned jointly” (but not assets held “in common”) pass automatically to the other joint owner and do not form part of the deceased estate. Also, benefits from life insurance on the deceased paid directly to a nominee is not part of the estate, nor are trust assets held by the deceased as trustee.
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.
Applications for probate are made to the probate office in the jurisdiction with which the deceased has a close connection, not necessarily where the person died. Normally, only the executor of a will can apply for a grant of probate, and it is their duty to obtain probate in a timely manner. Executors can apply for probate themselves (which is often done to reduce legal fees) or be represented by a lawyer. With the application for probate, the applicant must also provide the original of the will, an official death certificate (not the one issued by a medical professional), a copy of the death notice and a statement of the known assets and liabilities of the deceased estate. The applicant may also be required to have published a notice in a major newspaper of an intention to make the application for probate.
Muniment of Title provides a streamlined procedure for probating a will, and is the only means by which you can probate a will more than four years after a decedent’s death. With this process, the will is filed for probate, but the Court does not appoint an executor or administrator for the estate. Instead, once the Court signs its order establishing the will as the decedent’s true last will, a certified copy of the will and the court order can be used to transfer title in any property owned by the decedent to those listed in the will. The will and the order serve as an equivalent to a new deed to any real estate.
Informal probate proceedings generally do not require a hearing. The personal representative files the death certificate and will, along with a petition to admit the will under informal probate. The clerk of probate court reviews the submissions and recommends to the court that the will be probated. Once the court issues the order for informal probate, the personal representative files a series of forms that demonstrate that notice has been given to all interested parties about the probate, the decedent's creditors have been paid, and the estate's assets have been collected, appraised, and distributed to the designated heirs.
While you may think that you've covered all your bases, it may be a good idea to consult with a professional on a full investment and insurance plan. And if it's been a while, you may want to revisit your plan. As you get older, your needs may change, such as figuring out if you need long-term care insurance and protecting your estate from a large tax bill or lengthy court processes. Professionals will also be up on changes in legislation and income or estate tax laws, which could impact your bequests.