Although many people think that only the rich have estates to leave behind when they die, everyone in Kentucky has an estate, which is made of the total assets that belong to someone. Whether you have substantial wealth or relatively few assets, understanding the basics of estate planning is the first step in successfully transferring your estate to your kids, your spouse, charities or your community.
Understanding probate’s role in estate planning
People who haven’t done proper estate planning force courts to carry out a process called probate. Probate is the legal process by which courts oversee the distribution of a deceased person’s estate. Broadly, probate typically follows these steps:
- Identifying debts and assets
- Paying off creditors
- Distributing any remaining assets
Does probate happen with all estates?
Most post-death distribution of assets belonging to estates involves probate to some degree. Although some estates never see probate, courts typically at least verify wills, trusts and other estate planning documents.
Courts may appoint a personal representative to administer the estate and give out the assets. Estates usually name their own executors prior to the testator’s passing.
Probate takes a long time
Whether courts barely involve themselves in administering estates or take full control over administration, probate can take many months, if not years. Several situations cause probates to take longer than others, including when:
- The testator makes a poor choice of executor
- Estates involve too many wills
- Beneficiaries fail to get along with each other
- The IRS requires estates to file federal estate tax returns
- Estates have odd, unusual or rare assets
- Beneficiaries live far apart from one another
- Estates have assets in numerous states
- Estates name several beneficiaries
Although probate often seems unnecessarily long and drawn out, courts only carry out the process to ensure that executors distribute the assets as fairly as possible. Taking time to properly plan an estate is a great way to avoid drawn-out probates.