Despite admitting to understanding how important it is to have a comprehensive estate plan in place, over half of all Americans do not have one. When asked why they have yet to create an estate plan, one of the most common responses boils down to a lack of knowledge about the entire process. Basically, people do not know much about Wills and probate so they are intimidated by the thought of trying to create an estate plan. While this response is certainly understandable, it is something that can be easily remedied. Ideally, if you are unsure where to begin with your own estate plan you should consult with an experienced North Dakota estate planning attorney for guidance and advice. In the meantime, however, it may make you feel more comfortable to learn a few things about Wills and probate. With that in mind, consider the following “10 Things You Need to Know about Wills and Probate.”
- Almost all estates will have to go through some type of probate process. Probate is the legal process that is required following a death. During probate, your estate assets will be identified, located, valued, and eventually passed down to the intended beneficiaries or heirs of your estate.
- Wealth does not determine the need for a Last Will and Testament. Almost everyone leaves behind an estate. The value of that estate does not determine the need for a Will.
- Age does not determine the need for a Will. Likewise, do not operate under the mistaken belief that you need to be “older” before a Will is necessary.
- Dying without a Will, or dying “intestate,” is the same as allowing the State of North Dakota to decide what happens to your estate assets. If you execute a Last Will and Testament the terms of the Will decide what happens to your estate. If you die intestate, or without at least a basic Will in place, the intestate succession laws of the State of North Dakota decide who will inherit from your estate and in what proportion they inherit. Friends, charities, and more distant relatives will receive nothing.
- With careful planning, most of your estate can avoid probate. Although probate, in one form or another, is almost always required following a death, your estate could largely avoid probate if you have predominantly non-probate assets in your estate when you die.
- You can decide who will be in charge of the probate of your estate. You are able to appoint the Executor of your estate in your Will. Your Executor is in charge of overseeing the probate of your estate.
- Your estate could qualify for an alternative to formal probate. If you leave behind a small estate with only minimal probate assets your estate could qualify for an alternative to formal probate that will take less time to conclude and be less costly – both of which benefit your loved ones.
- Your Will is the only opportunity you will have to formally nominate a Guardian for your children. In your Will you may nominate a Guardian for your minor children. In fact, your Will is the only opportunity you will have to tell a judge who you would want to be your children’s Guardian if one is ever needed.
- Creditors of your estate can files claims during the probate process. Once probate has been opened, creditors of your estate must be notified. Creditors then have a designated period of time within which to file a claim against your estate.
- Working with an estate planning attorney almost always saves time and money during probate. It may be tempting to download and use the numerous DIY estate planning documents available on the internet. Keep in mind, however, that with the high propensity for errors in those forms it will likely cost your loved ones much more in terms of time and money than you saved by not working with an experienced North Dakota estate planning attorney.
If you have additional questions about Wills and probate in the State of North Dakota contact the experienced estate planning attorneys at German Law Group by calling 701-738-0060 to schedule an appointment.