Probate is the process of settling and administering estates, guardianships, and other matters. When a probate court in Kentucky is asked to settle the estate of a deceased person (decedent) this involves closing out the decedent's financial affairs, organizing assets, paying creditors, and interpreting the will. When there is no will in place, a probate court will be required to follow Kentucky's laws of intestate succession.
Generally, the probate process will include the following steps:
- Presenting and proving the validity of a will to the probate court. If the will is a “self-proven” will that already has the required two witnesses, this process can be short and simple. If there are issues with the signature requirements, or the decedent has a handwritten “holographic” will that must be proven, this aspect of the process can take longer.
- Seeking the appointment of an Executor or Administrator to handle the probate process. This is typically a reliable family member or trusted professional that is comfortable handling the administration of the estate.
- Locating and itemizing the decedent's property. This can vary in complexity depending on the person's estate. If a person's estate is limited to their personal residence and a couple of bank accounts, this is a quick process. If they owned multiple real properties and a number of trusts, retirement accounts, and other investments, this can sometimes take months to pull everything together.
- Identifying creditors to pay the decedent's debts and other obligations of the estate. In the probate process, these must be paid before the net estate can be distributed to heirs.
- Distributing the remaining assets to beneficiaries as directed by the decedent's will, or as directed under Kentucky law when there is no will.
Strategies to Minimize Probate Court Issues
As you can see from the steps above, the probate process in Northern Kentucky can be complicated and time consuming. This can create additional worries for a grieving family in the time after a loved one's death.
Fortunately, some of the delays and confusion can be avoided through careful estate planning while we are still here to say something about it. Some of these steps include:
- Making a will that meets legal requirements and is as detailed as possible. First of all, you want your will to meet Kentucky's statutory requirements for a will under Ky. Rev. Stat. Sec. 394.040. This means the will must be in writing, signed by the testator, and witnessed by two other people at the same time of your signature (and in the presence of each other). If the testator is unable to write or sign their name to the will, the person signing for them must also be in the presence of the testator and the witnesses. Having met these requirements, your will passes one significant legal hurdle. Next, you want your will to be as specific as possible regarding your estate, any property you own, and what your directives are. This can eliminate confusion and legal issues later on. The last thing you want is for a probate judge left trying to interpret what you really meant in a portion of your will.
- Identifying all property and accounts in your name, and making sure at least somebody in your family (or someone else you trust) knows about them. Aside from the obvious items such as your home, vehicle, and checking account, you may own various investment accounts, 401ks, IRAs, or other holdings that you want to pass down to your family. Make sure that these accounts have beneficiaries listed on them, and that the beneficiaries are kept current. That way, many of these accounts can pass straight to the beneficiary while sidestepping probate altogether.
- Using trusts and life estates to transfer property outside of the probate process. Some assets can be placed in revocable living trusts or irrevocable trusts that can help money transfer to heirs without being subject to probate or potential tax penalties. An estate planning attorney can help determine which of these might be right for your situation. The use of a life estate, meanwhile, with an heir as the remainderman on the title can help a residential home pass on to your family with fewer complications than through probate.
It is difficult to work these issues out on your own, however. This is where an experienced Northern Kentucky estate planning attorney can review all aspects of your estate, your preferences for distribution, and help craft an estate plan that meets your goals.
The Attorneys at Darpel Elder Law Can Help You Create an Effective Estate Plan That Minimizes Complications in Probate Court
The Northern Kentucky Elder Law Attorneys at Darpel Elder Law have years of experience helping people map out their goals for their senior years and beyond. Some of the difficult decisions regarding wills, trusts, and estate planning can be made easier with the help of a trusted legal advisor. Do not hesitate to contact Darpel Elder Law with any questions you may have. Call our office today at (859) 341-4100, or visit our website at www.darpelelderlaw.com.