For those in Florida who choose not to include trusts in their estate plans, they may assume that most of their property will go through the probate process. This legal procedure verifies the beneficiaries of an estate, values the assets and satisfies the debts of the deceased, among other things. While probate is an important part of closing an estate, it is not always necessary for some types of assets.
Any assets designated as payable on death or transfer on death will not have to go through the probate process unless the designated beneficiaries die before the owner of the accounts. Additionally, if the deceased owned property jointly with a spouse or other relative, those assets are exempt from the probate process as long as the surviving owner has rights of survivorship. In this case, full ownership of the asset transfers to the survivor. These are only a few of the ways in which assets can bypass probate directly to the beneficiaries.
One downfall of nonprobate property is that it may be at risk in unexpected ways. For example, a jointly-owned bank account can be targeted by the creditors of one owner. If a parent has a joint account with a child and the child goes through a divorce, the bank account may be considered marital property during asset division.
Many financial advisors recommend trusts to protect assets from these risks and avoid the hassle of probate. Since everyone's estate is unique, it is always wise to seek professional advice about the plans and tools most appropriate for a particular situation. An experienced Florida estate planning attorney can provide answers and guidance.