Revocable trust is a good way to avoid probate limbo

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Many people do not realize that a will alone can cause assets to be held in probate court for months, even years. A will only directs where assets should go, not how they get there.

The probate process is closely supervised by the court and highly regulated by procedures mandated by probate law. Since the process often necessitates an attorney, a will alone often leads to unnecessary fees and taxes.

Attorneys who handle probate matters typically charge from $250 to $450 per hour. Probate fees, payable to the treasurer, are based on the value of the probate estate. In Beaufort County, the fee to the county treasurer alone would exceed $1,800 for a probate estate worth $1 million.

So you see how the expense can add up.

A revocable living trust is an excellent way to avoid probate limbo. It is called "revocable" because it can be changed, and it is a "living trust" because it is created during life.

Initially, the agreement is between the person making the trust and the person who is to benefit from the trust (the same person).

The agreement also names who will serve as trustee once the creator becomes disabled or dies. This allows all the assets legally titled in the name of the trust to pass automatically to the successor trustee, upon disability or death.

All the trust assets are immediately transferred to the successor trustee with directions, avoiding probate altogether. That's because the assets held in the trust are not considered probate assets.

Allowing a loved one to avoid probate with a trust is a valuable gift that can ease the pain of loss. It won't make losing a loved one any easier, but it sure will reduce unwanted delay and cost.

Mark F. Winn, J.D., Master of Laws (LL.M.) in estate planning, is a local asset protection, estate and elder law planning attorney. mwinnesq.com

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