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Probate: 5 Tools for Avoiding Probate in Texas

Texas has created a quick and (relatively speaking) inexpensive probate process that can be utilized in the majority of estates arising in Texas.  While there is no substitute for the planning and protections that can be achieved with the proper will or trust, there are limited circumstances in which the value of those protections may be outweighed by the expense of utilizing the probate process to implement those plans.  Likewise, there are circumstances where the planning and protections built into your will or trust can be bolstered by taking actions to pass some (or all) of your assets outside of the probate process.

Probate is the legal process for transferring a deceased person’s assets.  However, with proper planning, a number of assets can be passed to subsequent owners outside of the court’s probate process.  By avoiding the probate process, the decedent may be able to (a) bypass the cost of opening a probate estate, (b) pass certain property free from existing debts and (c) protect certain transfers from disclosure in public records.

Some of the available tools for transferring property outside of probate include:

  • Living Trust(s);
  • Beneficiary designations for life insurance proceeds and/or investment, retirement, or other financial accounts;
  • Pay on Death (POD) or Transfer on Death (TOD) designations on checking or savings accounts;
  • Owning land, vehicles and/or financial accounts as “Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship”;
  • Prepare and filing a Transfer on Death Deed, which transfers real property at the time of your death.

Each of these tools and strategies has its own benefits and drawbacks and should only be utilized after careful consideration and planning.  The ideal estate plan incorporates the benefits of these non-probate transfers into your overall estate plan with an eye toward maximizing the benefits while minimizing your risks.  Take some time at the beginning of the year to discuss these ideas with your planning professional to make sure you have a plan in place that maximizes the benefits provided by these tools.

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