People that are serious about their estate planning efforts are interested in attending to every detail. This is wise, because the matter boils down to the final gifts that you will be able to give to the people that you love the most. The simpler and more efficient it is, the better for them, so you would naturally be concerned about the time frame after you are gone.
There is no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all estate plan, so the waiting game, as it were, will depend upon the way that you plan your estate. Let’s look at some of the details.
Last Wills and Probate
If you use a last will, you name an executor to handle all of the tasks that must be completed to get the assets into the hands of the inheritors. The executor is not allowed to act independently. After your passing, the executor would admit the will to probate, and the court would supervise the estate administration process.
When probate enters the picture, your heirs will not receive their inheritances shortly after your passing. The first order of business for the court would be to determine the validity of the will, and to this end, any party that wants to issue a challenge can take advantage of this window of opportunity.
Creditors must be notified, and they are given a certain amount of time to come forward seeking satisfaction. The executor would have to identify and inventory all the assets that comprise the estate, and appraisals and liquidations are typically going to be necessary.
All in all, the best case scenario would be 6 to 8 months to a year. More complex cases, like a contested estate situation, can take considerably longer. For example, it took well over a decade for the Anna Nicole Smith case to run its course.
It should be noted that this is not the only drawback of probate. Considerable expenses accumulate, and this money reduces the amount of the inheritances that will eventually be passed along to the heirs. There is a loss of privacy as well, because probate records can be accessed by the general public.
Revocable Living Trusts
A lot of people that do not look into the subject closely assume that a last will is the right asset transfer vehicle to benefit your heirs. They are under the impression that trusts are only utilized by very wealthy people that have estate tax concerns or other complicated situations to address.
While it is true that there are trusts that are beneficial for high net worth individuals, these would be irrevocable trusts. There is another type of trust called a revocable living trust that can be ideal for “the rest of us” and actually benefit your heirs.
When you use a revocable living trust as the centerpiece of your estate plan, you maintain complete control of the assets, because you would act as the trustee and the beneficiary while you are alive and well. You name a successor trustee to take over when the time comes, and you name your heirs as the beneficiaries. After your passing, the trustee would be empowered to distribute assets to the beneficiaries in accordance with your wishes as stated in the trust declaration.
These distributions to beneficiaries would not be subject to the probate process and the undo time consumption that goes along with it. Many of the other drawbacks would be avoided as well, and a living trust would provide additional advantages. For one, you can include a spendthrift clause to protect assets that you are leaving to someone that does not manage money effectively.
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