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How Does the Probate Process Differ For Estates With Real Estate Holdings in Multiple States?

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The Probate Process in Missouri

The probate is a necessary process that most surviving loved ones will have to endure after death. The exception to this is if there isn’t property to be transferred upon one’s death.

The decedent’s property is held and managed through a personal representative during the probate process. They are tasked with researching what debts and assets the decedent had, confirming the information, and initiating payment of debts to settle the estate.

As the probate court makes decisions about all aspects of the estate, the personal representative will take the appropriate steps. The problem with this process is that it can be lengthy, and along with the extensive time that estate settling can take are the associated costs that can add up quickly.

The timeline that you can expect can range from six months to more than a year. During this time, you will have limited or no access to the assets within the estate that are not otherwise designated.

What is Ancillary Probate?

Suppose you own a home in Missouri and reside there, but you also have a vacation home in another state at the time of your death. This situation may lead to having to enter into multiple probate processes in each of the states that the home (s) are in. This process is called ancillary probate.

The state that the assets are in is the state that governs the probate process, not the state that the decedent typically resides in, so if you have multiple homes in multiple states, it’s especially important to ensure that those assets are handled. Without any provisions or estate planning tools, such as a trust or a living will, your loved ones may have to enter into multiple probate processes and wait until they are all complete to access your assets.

The costs of having multiple probate processes can quickly lead to significant expenses, thereby eating away at the estate that you may want to leave behind to your loved ones.

Joint Tenancy

One of the ways to avoid probate (ancillary or otherwise) is to ensure that your assets are listed as joint tenancy. Joint tenancy refers to more than one person listed as the owner of an asset. Once one of the owners dies, the assets will automatically transfer to the survivors under what’s called a “right of survivorship.” One of the main benefits of joint tenancy is that, typically, all the survivor needs is the death certificate to secure the asset transfer.

It’s essential to keep in mind that listing titling assets as joint tenancy doesn’t take the place of having an effective will, as each asset is handled separately. Some issues that may arise without a will in place may be that once the survivor takes ownership, the remaining loved ones may still have to enter into the probate process once the survivor passes away if they don’t have a comprehensive estate plan. Another possible issue is that if the intended survivor passes away first, the asset may have to be retitled, listed in a will, or entered into a trust.

If both owners happen to pass away at the same time, as a result of a car accident, for example, the courts will need to determine who passed first, and this can require additional costs and/or time in the probate process.

Revocable Living Trusts

Another resource to check into is placing assets in a revocable trust. Suppose you have real estate in other states and want to avoid the probate process as much as possible. You may be able to alleviate this stress for your loved ones by utilizing a few estate planning tools.

A revocable living trust can be a great option, as it allows for changes to accommodate life changes. Another benefit is that assets within the trust are typically handled privately rather than in the public courtroom, helping to ensure the discretion of your assets upon your death.

Assets within the trust can typically be transferred much quicker than waiting for the probate process to be completed, making assets available to beneficiaries faster, which they may need or want quick access to.

Transfer on Death

Another way to protect your assets is to ensure that they are listed as Transfer on Death. When done effectively, the assets automatically transfer to the intended beneficiary upon your death and avoid the probate process.

Transfer on death is similar to joint tenancy, except that the original owner maintains full ownership of the asset until their death. Another appealing aspect of using transfer on death for your assets is that typically, by doing so, creditors can’t gain access to the assets to satisfy debts if they are titled as transfer on death.

It’s important to note that using transfer on death doesn’t necessarily shield the beneficiary from taxes, and they may be required to pay estate tax on a federal level.

Your Advocate When You Need it the Most

Navigating the estate planning process can be daunting, especially when multiple states are involved. Work with your trusted estate planning attorney and let them advocate for the best interests of you and the loved ones you are leaving behind.

Estate planning is never a “one size fits all” approach, so you shouldn’t assume that what worked for another family member or co-worker will work for you. Call our office today at (314) 347-3567 to schedule your free initial consultation. We will thoroughly review your estate and offer solutions through multiple estate planning tools so you can enjoy peace of mind knowing your future (and theirs) is secured.

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