Last Will and Testament Probate Process

By N. Brian Caverly, Jordan S. Simon

Part of Estate Planning For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Probate is the method by which your estate is legally transferred after you die. When estate planning and writing your last will and testament, keep these tips in mind to help the probate process run smoothly.

Things to Remember About Probate When Writing a Last Will and Testament

  • You can be both specific and general in your last will and testament — it’s up to you. You can parcel out individual items to people by name and also let your beneficiaries decide how to divide up your worldly goods.
  • State law does have something to say about the language of your will, however. Your state has a number of will statutes that may override a provision of your will if you say something that’s against the law.
  • Certain parts of your will “self-adjust” to changes in your estate and your family. For example, even if you don’t update your will after a child is born or if you adopt a child, your will covers the child just the same so that the child isn’t accidentally cut out of an inheritance.
  • You can get around much of the time-consuming, inconvenient, and costly process called probate by creating trusts and using, such as joint tenancy with right of survivorship and payable on death accounts.
  • If you own real estate property in another state, like a time share by the shore, you may need to worry about going through probate in that state, too.

If you’re just beginning to plan an estate or write a last will and testament, you should start by figuring out what all encompasses your estate. It’s important to know before sitting down to write whether you have one piece of fine art or an entire gallery of work by the masters, to know whether you want to leave all your Beanie Babies to one person, or whether you want a say in where each one ends up, to decide to let your beneficiaries decide who gets what or to not.

You might need to do further research in state laws or hire an estate attorney. All of these things might be overwhelming, but you need to start somewhere. To get you started, though, read the rest of this Cheat Sheet and maybe check out Wills & Trusts Kit For Dummies.