Many people in Vermont never even think about what probate means until it’s time to begin their estate plans (which, by the way, should be started sooner rather than later – especially in today’s uncertainties). Probate is simply the process in which your will is executed. That’s the abbreviated definition – what follows is a bit more in-depth. Remember, though, one of the best investments you can make is by hiring a qualified estate planning lawyer. This is just one of those important tasks that you shouldn’t attempt to manage without legal guidance.
Probate in Vermont
If you die and you have a will filed with the state, probate is the collective process in how your will is carried out. It will include an executor, which is someone who oversees the process. If, however, you do not have a will, you are deemed to have died intestate (without a will). Probate then becomes the process in how your property is distributed based on Vermont state law. Instead of an executor that you name, there will be an administrator named by the courts. The executor ensures your wishes are met; the administrator ensures the laws are followed. Clearly, it’s always better to name an executor.
The sole purpose of probate, in any instance, is to protect interested parties and ensure the estate of the deceased is properly liquidated. Whether it’s done so based on those named in the will or carried out due to the state laws that must be followed when a will is absent, the end result is the same.
For those who believe they should have been included, but for whatever reasons were not, the process allows them to be heard and to object to any decisions made.
Your Two Estates
While your will is an important part of the probate process, you shouldn’t overlook or underestimate other important documents. Setting up trusts is just one way of protecting your estate while providing for loved ones, too. Remember that property placed in trust during your lifetime will also pass free of probate – which can often present a significant planning opportunity.
Powers of attorney – especially a financial power of attorney and a medical power of attorney – are crucial. Those named to fill those roles will be the ones you trust to make sometimes- difficult decisions on your behalf.
We are fortunate in Vermont as the probate process is usually straightforward and doesn’t require a huge financial or time investment – and that’s especially true for those who have left no stones unturned in their estate planning efforts. Still, probate can be avoided. Many decide to simply place their assets into a living trust, which means the trust takes ownership without you having to relinquish control, and therefore, not a part of your estate.
Others may decide to place their assets into a joint ownership status. This is often a fine solution, but don’t forget to consult with your estate planning attorney to ensure you’re in compliance with Vermont laws and that you are making the best decision for your needs.