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Options for avoiding probate and simplifying inheritance

2/18/2016 | Kaplin Stewart Blog

One of the primary purposes of estate planning is to ensure the assets that a Pennsylvania family has accumulated over a lifetime will pass down to the intended heirs. This simple desire can become incredibly complicated, especially in cases where there is a challenge to the will. Even when no one initiates probate litigation, the probate process can be costly and time-consuming, leaving heirs waiting for anywhere from three months to three years before they can make use of their inheritance. There are options for avoiding probate, some of which are outlined below.

One of the most simple ways to ensure that assets pass directly to the intended heir is to establish joint ownership prior to death. This can be a good fit when the asset in question is real estate, vehicles or items of personal property that have significant value, such as a boat or motor home. When one owner passes away, the joint owner owns the property in full, immediately. The downside of joint ownership lies in the fact that jointly owned property is subject to loss during divorce, tax liens or legal judgments.

Another option lies in creating a revocable living trust. Assets are placed within the trust, and beneficiaries are named. Once the grantor passes away, the assets held within the trust are available to the named beneficiaries. There is no need to go through the probate process, and changes can be made to the trust any time prior to the grantor’s death. The process of creating a revocable living trust can be a bit more involved than drafting a simple will, but the potential benefits far outweigh the time and effort required to set up a trust.

Pennsylvania residents should consider the full range of their needs prior to creating or revising an estate plan. In some cases, avoiding probate is a priority, and tools such as joint ownership and revocable living trusts are good options. For other families, a different set of plans might provide a better fit. The most important thing to remember is that there is a solution available for virtually any set of needs, and that creating an estate plan is often far easier than many people imagine.  

Source:, “5 Smart Estate-Planning Steps to Avoid Probate“, James E. Salter, Feb. 10, 2016