Should You Focus on the Avoidance of Probate?

gavel and law books

In a March column for NJ.com, a New Jersey-based estate planning attorney named Andrew Novick addresses a question from a potential client.

The client asks, “How can we avoid probate and reduce the estate tax for our beneficiaries, who are our two adult children?”

Novick goes on to advise that, while avoiding probate is a fine and understandable goal, it should never be the primary focus of an estate plan.

As he further explained, while the time to settle an estate can be long, and the costs can be considerable, probate is relatively painless in New Jersey. The pain is lessened if you are properly prepared.

It may be tough to avoid probate entirely, though one can take steps to limit which assets will go into probate.

What Steps Can Avoid Probate?

Here are four ways to keep assets from entering probate upon your death:

  1. A living trust will let you transfer assets in while you are alive. The trust is comprised of three parties – the grantor, who puts assets into the trust, the trustee, who manages the trust, and the beneficiary, who inherits the assets.
  2. A POD (Payable On Death) designation will enable an account to transfer outside of probate. It is a way to add a beneficiary designation to a non-retirement account.
  3. Retirement account designations will let you pass on IRAs, 401[k] accounts, 403(b) accounts, Roth IRAs, and other retirement accounts to your beneficiaries outside probate.
  4. JTWROS stands for “Joint Tenancy With Rights of Survivorship.” It is a type of account that is owned by multiple people. Tenants, in this case, have equal rights to accessing the assets of the account. Creating a JTWROS account will grant your decedents “survivorship rights” in the event of your death.
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