Probate Myths

Probate is not a 4-letter word! It’s a way to properly administer your estate and distribute your assets to your loved ones.

The word probate does not need to make you shutter with fear. You may have heard these probate myths:

  • Probate is difficult and should be avoided at all cost.
  • If you don’t have a Will, you don’t need to probate.
  • If you don’t have a Will, the State will take all of your property.
  • Probate is expensive and takes years to complete.

It is important to separate fact from fiction. First, probate is the process whereby the Court determines the validity of the Will and appoints a personal representative to settle the estate. The personal representative pays the claims and debts against the estate, identifies who is entitled to distribution of the assets, and ensures that the deceased’s wishes are carried out.

I have been asked on occasion, “Why must we probate?” Imagine for a moment what it would be like if you were playing in a basketball game and there were no rules or referees. Whether you are playing basketball or probating an estate, without rules there would be chaos! In basketball, we need referees to make sure the game is being played fairly and according to the rules. When probating an estate, the Court makes sure the process is fair to everyone and that the rules are being followed.

Let’s return to those probate myths. Probate is an efficient way to settle estates. In Idaho, the process usually can be completed within six months and often costs between $1,000 and $2,000. If you don’t have a Will, your property passes according to Idaho law—your family, not the state, would get your property.

However, not all estates have to be probated. For example, if there are bank accounts with a Pay-on-Death (POD) designation, they go directly to the named individual without probate. Insurance policies and financial investments with named beneficiaries do not need to be probated. Property held in joint tenancy with the right of survivorship is not probated. In addition, if you have a Trust your estate does not need to be probated. But buyer beware—putting property into a Trust can be expensive and difficult to manage, especially if you are buying and selling a lot of property, etc.

If you have a small estate, probate can probably be avoided with some planning. However, if you need to probate, in Idaho, it is simple, fast, and not that stressful.

Tom Packer is an Elder Law Attorney serving all of Southeast Idaho. As part of his law practice, Tom offers Life Care Planning to deal with the challenges created by long-term illness, disability and incapacity. If you have a question about a Senior’s legal, financial or healthcare needs, please call us.