Probate gets a bad reputation in many states, and many people go through great lengths in order to avoid it. But is it really the best move to set up your estate plan with the single objective of avoiding it? Let’s take a look at how the probate process works in Virginia so you can get a better idea of whether or not you should avoid it.

When somebody dies, if they left a will, then the will needs to be recorded at the local Probate Court. If there are any assets to be distributed, the judge will then assign a personal representative appointed in the will to will serve as an executor and act on behalf of the estate. The main objective of probate is to distribute assets according to the decedent’s will making sure that his or her wishes are respected and that there is no fraud involved in the distribution of assets, making sure that all debts and taxes are paid before beneficiaries can get their share of the inheritance. This process can take an average of six months up to a year, and sometimes more depending on the size and complexity of the estate and on whether there are any disputes among beneficiaries.

What is Simplified Probate?

The state of Virginia offers simplified probate for estates valued at less than $50,000, allowing beneficiaries to receive the assets in less time and without the need for a formal process. Estates going through probate also allow for creditors to come forward and claim any debts against the estate. However, they are limited to claiming these debts while the estate is still open. Once the estate is closed and assets distributed, any creditor that comes forward may be forfeiting their rights to collect those debts. Without going through probate, heirs may be dealing with creditor claims for many years to come.

How Do Trusts Affect Probate?

Because probate can be time-consuming and costly, many clients try to use different strategies such as setting up trusts. While there are benefits in setting up trusts, it requires that the trustor transfer assets into the trust in order for those to be kept out of probate. However, an individual can end up accumulating more assets that are not included in the trust or simply have not been added to it due to an oversight. This might lead to those assets still having to be probated even though the majority of the estate had been placed in a trust.

How Do I Determine My Estate Planning Goals?

As unpleasant as it might be, the probate process is designed to protect your estate from fraudulent activity and to ensure that your wishes are carried out according to your will. There are many other goals that need to be considered when crafting your estate plans. Avoiding probate should not be your ultimate goal but an added benefit. If you are concerned about how probate might affect your loved ones and would like to know if setting up estate planning strategies to avoid it is the right thing to do, consider contacting a skilled probate and estate planning attorney to discuss your situation. The Johnson Law Firm, PCoffers legal advice and guidance for clients in the Gainesville and Woodbridge, Virginia area and can provide valuable insights to help you with all your estate planning needs.