There are several misconceptions about the probate process that can lead to unnecessary stress and confusion for those dealing with the estate of a loved one.
Below are some of the most common misconceptions surrounding the probate process. Awareness of these can help provide clarity and understanding to those who need it.
Misconception 1: Probate is always a lengthy and expensive process.
While probate can be time-consuming and costly in certain situations, it is not always true for all probate cases. Some estates qualify for simplified procedures that can expedite the process, especially if the estate is small or not complicated. Ultimately, the duration and costs of a probate will depend on the unique circumstances of each case.
Misconception 2: Probate is only for large estates.
Probate is not exclusive to large or wealthy estates. It applies to estates of varying sizes, though some states, like Florida, have simplified procedures for smaller estates.
Misconception 3: All assets go through probate.
Not all assets are subject to probate. Some assets, such as those held in a trust, life insurance policies with named beneficiaries and accounts with payable on death (POD) or transfer on death (TOD) designations, bypass the probate process.
Misconception 4: The state takes all estate assets if there is no will.
If someone dies without a will, their state’s intestacy laws outline rules on who inherits the estate. Typically, the decedent’s next of kin, such as their spouse, children, parents or siblings, will inherit, not the state. However, the estate is still subject to payment of debts and similar obligations to the state and other creditors.
Misconception 5: Only family members can be executors.
An estate’s executor can be anyone an estate owner trusts to fulfill their wishes, not necessarily a family member. In case a family member has been named as an executor and is subsequently removed from the role, the court can assign another individual who is not blood-related to the decedent as the new executor.
By dispelling common misconceptions in probate, involved parties can approach the process with a clearer perspective.