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Question: What is probate and what are its drawbacks?
Answer: Probate is the court supervision of the transfer of assets at the owner’s death. On its face, that seems OK. In particular, where the family members don’t get along, the idea of having a probate judge act as referee seems like a good idea.
While each state has its own rules about how probate works, those rules are similar with regard to the drawbacks of the probate process:
- It’s public. Since probate is a court procedure, the records are available to anyone who asks. With public information available online, privacy for probated estates can disappear easily. For example, want to find out about Elvis Presley’s will? Visit http://www.ibiblio.org/elvis/elvwill.html. How about Michael Jackson’s? Visit http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2009/0701091mjwill1.html.
- It’s structured, and it takes a while to finish. Since probate is a court procedure, there are rules and forms for everything. Also, in most jurisdictions for most estates, the process takes months to run from start to finish. Sometimes heirs will have to wait a year or more before they get their complete inheritances.
- It can be expensive. Since probate involves going to court, most personal representatives opt to hire a lawyer to guide them through the process. The probate court charge fees for paperwork filings. Under certain circumstances, the personal representative may need bonding to be able to act on behalf of an estate. The costs vary widely depending on the jurisdiction, how well the heirs get along and the complexity of the estate.
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