Talk to an estate planning attorney about probate and you’ll probably hear it described as a quagmire. Families who have gone through the probate process would likely use terms like “slow,” “agonizing” and “expensive.” 

Probate serves an important function. When someone dies, their property rights are still entitled to protection. A determination must be made on whether there is a valid will. Challenges to the will, if any, need to be heard and resolved. Assets must be inventoried, debts paid and the estate distributed under court supervision according to law. 

But probate can be arduous and time-consuming to complete, especially in cases of large estates with multiple beneficiaries and competing interests. It can also be a significant drain on estate assets, due to fees generated by executors, accountants, attorneys and other professionals involved. For these reasons, it is something to be avoided if possible. Here are three ways to do so in whole or in part:

1. Set up a trust

By placing assets in trust, you transfer ownership to a separate legal entity, to be managed in the interests of specified beneficiaries. Depending on the type of trust, you can control how your assets are managed, invested and distributed even after you’re gone. Moreover, since the assets are not owned by you, they are not part of your estate and do not need to go through probate. Instead, your successor trustee (typically a spouse or close relative) can immediately spring to action and carry out your wishes.

2. Create pay-on-death and transfer-on-death accounts

Another way to transfer assets and property without making your family wait for probate is by the process of transfer or payment on death. Arizona allows most financial institutions to set up accounts as payable on death, which gives a designated beneficiary immediate rights to the money without a court order. Transfer-on-death real estate deeds offer a similar conveyance for land and physical property.

3. Own property by joint or community title

When two people buy property together, there are ways to structure the deal so that the title passes automatically to one owner if the other dies. You can achieve this result by titling ownership as community property or a joint tenancy with right of survivorship. In either case, the surviving party inherits the property in its entirety by operation of law without going to probate court. In the Mesa, Arizona area, estate planning attorney Joseph M. Udall delivers tailored plans to fit your needs. Call 480-500-1866 or contact us online. We provide free telephone consultations, and Saturday and evening appointments are available.