Understanding probate as part of estate planning basics

Many Quincy residents will have one major question surrounding their estates or the estate of a loved one: how to avoid probate. Before delving into the subject of avoiding probate, we will spend some time making sure that our readers are clear on just when it is necessary to probate an estate.

First of all, what is probate? Probate is a legal process that takes place after a person has died. Probate transfers ownership of the deceased person's property to other parties and resolves any questions or issues related to that property. If certain property automatically transfers upon death, such as life insurance proceeds or property that married spouses own jointly, then probate is not required for those assets.

Probate is required in situations in which the validity of a will is not necessarily accepted. A valid will could transfer ownership of property directly, but if no one knew about a will, it has not been witnessed or is otherwise questionable, the estate will need to be probated. Probate will also be necessary if the deceased individual left debts to be paid, in order to resolve claims that creditors may make on the estate.

When someone dies with assets held in his or her name alone, meaning that they will not automatically transfer to a spouse after death, probate will be necessary to transfer ownership of those assets. This is true of real estate, money held in accounts, securities and other types of assets. Probate also comes into play when issues of estate taxes and obtaining medical information arise.

It is true that careful estate planning can avoid probate for many assets. Notably, trusts can legally facilitate the transfer of property after a person's death and bypass probate. Legal professionals experienced in estate planning often assist with drafting estate planning documents like these, as well as consulting with the representatives of an estate that will need to be probated.

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