J. Kelly Kennedy, Attorney/CPA, PLLC

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How does a living trust help to avoid probate issues?

For many people, the word "probate" might not carry any significant meaning. However, anyone who has had an interest in an estate that has gone through probate probably understands the time and costs that are involved. In general, probate is the legal mechanism by which Florida courts dispense with a deceased person's estate. This means that the court takes the legal steps necessary to resolve any debts that the person owed, and then distributes the remaining estate assets.

Though it sounds like a simple process, many probate issues can arise, which complicate and delay the final settlement of the estate. Given that probate can take months or even years to complete, many people in Polk County may look for ways to set up their estate in a way that simplifies probate as much as possible. So how can they go about accomplishing this goal?

A living trust in one such instrument that people often turn to when trying to plan their estate around the costs of the probate system. A grantor creates a living trust and legally signs over ownership of certain assets that they want to deposit in the trust. A trustee holds the assets in the trust for the benefit of whomever the grantor chooses to name as beneficiaries of the trust assets. The grantor can also choose to be the trustee, thereby retaining control of the trust assets during their lifetime.

When the grantor dies, all of the assets in the trust pass to the beneficiaries. This transfer is effective through the trust instrument and does not require intervention from the probate court. Thus, through a living trust, the grantor can save the beneficiaries the considerable expense and time that probate ordinarily involves.

While the living trust can be a helpful tool for many people, it may not be right for all situations. An experienced estates and trusts attorney can tailor a prudent estate plan based on the particulars of each client's circumstances. Through proper planning and estate administration, people can save themselves and their beneficiaries time and money.

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