Estate planning is about more than lawyers and property. It’s about planning for incapacity and end-of-life matters and securing the future for your spouse and dependents. When you think about your will, the idea of probate can be an intimidating matter. While the majority of estate issues are handled through probate one way or another, this does not mean they land in lengthy probate court proceedings. Still, if you leave anything unaccounted for, your estate could wind up under the probate court’s jurisdiction. In order to proceed carefully, you will want to understand which assets are non-probate matters that are protected under the right of survivorship, by appointing a beneficiary, or through payable-on-death (POD) documents.
These assets will not be handled through probate:
- Bank accounts/joint bank accounts
- Investment accounts
- IRAs, 401(k)s, and other retirement accounts/pension plans
- Life insurance
- Buy/sell agreements
- Jointly owned property
Each of the aforementioned assets are subject to beneficiary rights, therefore, it is good idea to ensure that your beneficiary designation is up-to-date so the rightful person can claim benefits The exception is in joint accounts and jointly-owned properties, wherein the surviving owner automatically inherits your share.
If probate concerns you, keep in mind that most small estates go through an expedited probate process. It is those larger, more complicated estates that typically linger in probate court. Additionally, you can protect other assets by setting up a trust or living trust to ensure these assets are protected and distributed according to your terms and conditions.
To ease your questions and concerns, consult an experienced Vermont estate planning attorney who can help you to understand probate law and can ensure that your estate plan is rock solid.