How to avoid probate

What does Avoid Probate mean?

What does avoid probate mean?

To understand what avoid probate means, you have to understand what probate is.

For prospective law firm clients who want to schedule a free 15 minute initial phone call with Paul Rabalais, go to:

Some basics: Probate, in general, is the court-supervised process of transferring assets in the name of a deceased person to the heirs. In Louisiana, probate is referred to as "a Succession." But because there are different laws, rules, and regulations that apply to different types of assets you might own, I'd like to use an example.

Let's say that Alan and Alice Peterson own five assets:

(1) A bank account;

(2) An individual retirement account (IRA);

(3) A brokerage account;

(4) A vehicle; and

(5) A home.

One die, Alan dies. Alice goes to the bank where they tell her that she still has access to their bank joint bank account. Alan goes to their brokerage firm where she is told that as the designated beneficiary on Alan's IRA, she can produce a death certificate (when she gets it) and the financial institution will transfer Alan's IRA into an IRA in Alice's name. So far, Alice is on a roll.

But when Alice inquires about their joint brokerage account, the brokerage firm tells Alice that the account is frozen, and that Alice and her family must hire an attorney to get the appropriate court orders in order to gain access to the brokerage account funds.

Then Alice discovers from the Office of Motor Vehicles that she cannot sell or otherwise transact the car until she produces the appropriate court order ordering the Office of Motor Vehicles to take Alan's name off the vehicle title.

Then, when Alice starts to inquire about selling the home, she discovers that she can't sell the home until she "completes Alan's Succession," which will clear up the title to the home.

So, even if Alan had a last will and testament, it's the fact that he had assets titled in his name when he died that required his survivors to hire lawyers to complete this court-supervised procedure, even though Alan's IRA "avoided probate."

So Alice and the kids hire a lawyer, spend a few grand or more, take several months or more, to complete the court proceeding and all that goes along with settling Alan's estate.

Years later, Alice dies, also owning five assets. Even though Alice may have had a last will and testament naming an executor, and naming her children as her sole heirs. The kids must now "lawyer up" and go through the court proceeding in order to get Alice's bank funds and brokerage account, and to sell Alice's vehicle and home.

Some people want their survivors to "avoid probate," which means they want to arrange their affairs in a manner so that their survivors will have immediate access to assets, without their survivors having to have assets frozen while survivors hire lawyers and wait on the judicial system to oversee the settling of the estate.

So perhaps Alan and Alice would have, in order to avoid probate, established the "Alan and Alice Peterson Revocable Living Trust." They would have transferred their "probate assets" to their trust, such as their home and brokerage account, while they would have kept the IRA out of the trust since IRA law permits IRA owners to designate beneficiaries of their IRA accounts.

Then when Alan died, Alice, as the trustee of their trust, could sell the home and access the trust brokerage account, without having to go through probate. Things in a trust do not have to "go through probate" when you die. Only certain assets titled in your name require a probate (or in Louisiana, "a Succession") when you die.

After both Alan AND Alice die, then the Successor Trustee so designated by Alan and Alice in the trust instrument, would have immediate access to sell trust assets (like the home, if appropriate), and disburse trust assets to the principal beneficiaries of the trust, without having the traditional attorney and court involvement that is required when you die with assets in your name and a Succession is required.

This post is for informational purposes only and does not provide legal advice. Please do not act or refrain from acting based on anything you read on this site. Using this site or communicating with Rabalais Estate Planning, LLC, through this site does not form an attorney/client relationship.

Paul Rabalais

Louisiana Estate Planning Attorney

Phone: (225) 329-2450