Probate refers to the process by which a deceased individual’s assets are legally passed onto the beneficiaries and heirs of the decedent’s estate. In probate, the North Carolina courts manage the collection, inventorying, and distribution of the decedent’s assets. Of course, having to go through a court process to pass on your estate to your beneficiaries and heirs can be both time-consuming and expensive, especially if you leave behind significant or complex assets.
But through estate planning, you can structure your assets in such a way as to avoid having those assets go through the probate process following your passing. This can allow you to preserve the value of your estate and pass it on more quickly to your beneficiaries and heirs. It can also grant you and your family privacy since probate like all court proceeds are typically a matter of public record.
Below are three methods commonly used to allow assets to avoid probate in North Carolina.
Name a Beneficiary to All Accounts
Many different types of accounts or other instruments, such as retirement accounts and life insurance policies, allow you to designate a beneficiary. When you name a beneficiary for an account, the assets or funds in the account are paid directly to the beneficiary or beneficiaries. Those funds are not considered part of your estate and therefore don’t have to go through probate.
Other types of financial accounts and assets, such as bank accounts, brokerage accounts, and stocks can also have “transfer-on-death” or “payable-on-death” orders. With a TOD, ownership of the account or instrument can simply be transferred to the named individual or entity, while a POD can allow the funds in the account or instrument to be paid to the named beneficiary. Because the transfer occurs at the moment of death, those assets are not considered part of the estate to be probated.
Titled assets such as real estate and vehicles can be titled as a joint tenancy with right of survivorship. Under a JTROS, ownership of the asset automatically passes to the surviving owner or owners upon the death of one of the joint tenants. Joint tenancy is commonly used by couples, both married and unmarried, who jointly purchase titled assets that they want their partner or spouse to keep.
Consider a Living Trust
Finally, you can have your estate or certain assets avoid probate by placing them into a living trust. Under a living trust arrangement, your assets become owned by the trust. However, under the terms of the living trust, you will continue to enjoy the use and benefit of those assets during your life. Upon your death, the trustee will then distribute the income and principal of the trust according to the terms of the trust, without the need to probate those assets.
How a North Carolina Estate Lawyer Can Help
If you have assets that you want to avoid probate, turn to the North Carolina estate planning and administration attorneys of Mullen Holland & Cooper. Our legal team can review your estate and assets and help you identify what assets would have to be probated after your death. Our attorneys can explore available options to structure your assets in such a way that they can avoid probate.
Contact our firm today for a confidential case evaluation to discuss your legal rights and options for structuring an estate plan that can help your estate avoid probate. Our goal will be to help you pass on your wealth to your beneficiaries and heirs with minimal time and expense. Don’t wait, call us today to speak with a knowledgeable member of our team.