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Creating an estate plan can help avoid probate

We always say we will get our financial affairs in order tomorrow. But tomorrow passes, and we have made no progress.

But for residents of the Miami area and other U.S. cities, estate planning is crucial. When you pass away without a will, your estate could wind up in probate court, which can cost time and money and still not assure that your heirs will receive your estate. Instead, experts said you can avoid probate by following these steps.

  1. Create a living trust. A living trust is a legal way to safeguard your assets and pass them on to beneficiaries. By creating a trust, you can avoid probate by putting your assets, such as property and bank accounts, into trust. After your death, the items in the trust will pass on to named beneficiaries. That will save money for the estate, but it does not shield it from estate taxes.
  2. Make sure property is held in joint tenancy. That way, upon the death of a joint tenant, the property passes to surviving tenants without a trip to probate court. Joint tenancy can apply to everything from homes to bank accounts.
  3. Make bank accounts payable upon death. When you die, the person whom you designate as a beneficiary will receive the money on demand without probate. Until then, you retain control of your funds.
  4. Be sure to have named a beneficiary for retirement accounts. When we create Individual Retirement Accounts, or 401(k) plans and other pension funds, we might name a beneficiary and forget about it since we don't expect to tap into the money for a long time. Review the beneficiaries to make sure the accounts have the proper beneficiary.

Experts continue to reiterate that proper estate planning will safeguard your family's future. Don't put it off any longer.

Source: Quincy Cover, "Estate Planning: 4 Ways to Protect Your Family's Future," July 17, 2012

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