Wills and probate: planning what happens to property after death

Thursday, April 28, 2005

By Steve Moyer

Nevada Daily Mail

A group of residents and business leaders met at the Moore-Few Community Room for a discussion on wills and probate. Kendall Vickers, a local attorney, explained the probate process and what people can do to make the process less stressful.

"People try to figure out how to keep things out of probate but probate isn't necessarily a bad thing," Vickers said. "Probate gets a bad rap, probably because lawyers are involved, but actually it is a very efficient method for handling the transfer of property after someone dies."

Vickers explained that without probate each death could possibly result in multiple lawsuits that would waste time, effort and money.

"Suppose someone dies owing money," Vickers said. "Each creditor would have to file a lawsuit to get their money and there would be lawsuits over other matters, if money was owed to the person who died, for example."

Not all wills need to go through probate, Vickers noted.

If the property in an estate is less than $40,000 there is a provision to admit a will to probate to establish its validity but another procedure, Affidavit in Small Estate, to handle distribution of the assets.

Estates above a certain level are also not good candidates for probate.

"Usually if an estate is valued more than $100,000 then it's time to look at the pros and cons of probate," Vickers said. "There are a lot of things that don't come under probate, joint bank accounts with survivor benefits and other contractual arrangements for disposition of property at death also are exempt. People use a lot of these methods to avoid probate."

However, there are some problems with many of these strategies, and pitfalls into which consumers might fall, Vickers pointed out.

"Some of these methods are particularly prone to fraud," Vickers said. "If you see an old person accompanied by a very young one opening a joint account you have to wonder if they won't go through the money quickly."

Some of the methods of avoiding probate have other problems associated with them, he noted.

"You might have a situation where there's a piece of property the parent's put the children on as joint owners and then the children die leaving their own children behind," Vickers said. "You could have a case where the property is vested in an 8-year-old or a 2-year-old and they have to have guardians to manage the property."

Vickers said the best advice was for someone to consult a lawyer to figure out the best way to handle their estates.

"I don't know why someone will spend money on other professions and hesitate to go to a lawyer," Vickers said. "I understand not wanting to pay a professional, I don't like to pay other professionals myself, but money spent on a lawyer will pay off dealing with issues raised by a person's death."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: