What is Probate and How to Avoid It?

What is Probate?

When one dies with assets left in their name the state distributes said assets through a process called probate. In Massachusetts, anyone who dies owning more than $25,000 in assets must have their estate probated. The average probate in Massachusetts costs around five percent of said estate and takes at least eighteen months to complete.

The process requires a skilled estate planner to navigate the complicated hurdles mandated by the court where the estate is being probated. Almost no distributions can be made without first getting the express approval of the court. Even if one has a will, one will not avoid probate. It is also important to note that even if you are married and leave everything to your spouse, by law you estate must still be probated.

Can You Avoid Probate?

Yes, it is possible to avoid probate. If you have an estate worth less than $25,000 there is no need to worry at all, your estate will not be probated. If your current estate is worth over $25,000 though, you can still avoid probate.

The key is that you only have to worry about assets included in your estate. This would specifically exclude assets such as retirement accounts with successor beneficiary designations on them, life insurance policies that name someone other than your estate as the beneficiary, assets held as joint tenants (or tenants in the entirety) by you and someone else, and any assets that you hold in a living trust.