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What does My Estate Include?

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Your estate is simply everything that you own, anywhere in the world, including:

  • Your home or any other real estate that you own
  • Your business
  • Your share of any joint accounts
  • The full value of your retirement accounts
  • Any life insurance policies that you own
  • Any property owned by a trust, over which you have a significant control

How do I name a guardian for my children?

If you have children under the age of eighteen, you should designate a person or persons to be appointed guardian(s) over their person and property. Of course, if a surviving parent lives with the minor children (and has custody over them) he or she automatically continues to remain their sole guardian. This is true despite the fact that others may be named as the guardian in your estate planning documents. You should name at least one alternate guardian in case the primary guardian cannot serve or is not appointed by the court.

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What happens if someone objects to the Will?

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An objection to a Will, also known as a “Will contest” is a fairly common occurrence during the probate proceedings and can be incredibly costly to litigate. In order to contest a Will, one has to have legal “standing” to raise objections. This usually occurs when, for example, children are to receive disproportionate shares under the Will, or when distribution schemes change from a prior Will to a later Will. In addition to disputes over the tangible distributions, Will contests can be a quarrel over the person designated to serve as Executor.

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Does probate administer all property of the deceased?

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Probate is primarily a process through which title is transferred from the name of the deceased to the names of the beneficiaries. Certain types of assets are what is called “non-probate assets” do not go through probate. These include:

  • Property in which you own title as “joint tenants with right of survivorship”. Such property passes to the co-owners by operation of law and do not go through probate.
  • Retirement accounts such as IRA and 401(k) accounts where there are designated beneficiaries.
  • Life insurance policies.
  • Bank accounts with “pay on death” (POD) designations or “in trust for”designations.
  • Property owned by a living trust. Legal title to such property passes to successor trustees without having to go through probate.
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Do I get paid for serving as an Executor?

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Executors (also referred to as “Personal Representatives”) are reimbursed for all legitimate out-of-pocket expenses incurred in the process of management and distribution of the deceased estate. In addition, you may be entitled to statutory fees, which vary from location to location and on the size of the probate estate. The Executor has to fulfill his or her fiduciary duties on behalf of the estate with the highest degree of integrity and can be held liable for mismanagement of estate assets in his or her care. It is advised that the Executor retain an attorney and an accountant to advise and assist him with his or her duties.

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How much does probate cost? How long does it take?

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The cost and duration of probate can vary substantially depending on a number of factors such as the value and complexity of the estate, the existence of a Will and the location of real property owned by the estate. Will contests or disputes with alleged creditors over the debts of the estate can also add significant cost and delay. Common expenses of an estate include executors fees, attorneys fees, accounting fees, court fees, appraisal costs, and surety bonds. These typically add up to 2% to 7% of the total estate value. Most estates are settled though probate in about 9 to 18 months, assuming there is no litigation involved.

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