After the death of a loved one, the court follows a process in which the estate is assessed and administered. This process, taken as a whole, is called probate. While states differ in how probate is handled, in Texas it is a necessary process that can be directly impacted by how the estate plan is written.
When drafting a comprehensive estate plan, there are several tactics an individual can employ that can protect numerous assets and avoid the probate process entirely, including:
- Spousal right-of-survivorship: When creating the estate plan, the spouses can agree that all or part of the community property automatically belongs to the survivor when the first spouse dies. With the spousal right-of-survivorship documentation in place, the property will pass to the survivor without the need for probate.
- Transfer-on-death documentation: Some assets such as real estate or vehicles can have transfer-on-death paperwork attached. A deed for a house or a vehicle registration, for example, will automatically transfer ownership of the asset to a named beneficiary immediately upon death. With transfer-on-death paperwork in place, there is no reason for these assets to move through the probate process.
- Living trusts: An individual might choose to create a living trust during the estate planning process. In so doing, he or she essentially conveys all property to the trust, then names himself or herself trustee. Upon death, the assets automatically transfer to the named “successor trustee” without the need to proceed through probate.
Drafting an estate plan can be a challenging task. Many individuals take comfort in the process, however, after learning the ways this collection of documents can prevent the creation of undue stress for surviving loved ones. Following a variety of tactics, the duration of the probate process can be reduced or probate could be eliminated altogether.