Three Steps You Can Take To Avoid Probate Court

Clients frequently ask, "How can I avoid probate?" While some of the steps involve preparation of documents that only an attorney should prepare, there are some things that you can do yourself to avoid probate without an attorney's involvement. Following are a few suggestions: 

1. We often have estate administrations that must go through probate solely because of how the vehicle is titled. Go to the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) and obtain Transfer on Death (TOD) Titles from the BMV for the vehicles that would otherwise have to go through probate. For a single person, this would mean all vehicles, unless owned in a trust or as joint tenants with rights of survivorship (JTWROS) with another person. For a married couple, this would mean all vehicles that would not *automatically pass to the surviving spouse, unless owned in a trust or JTWROS with another person. (*As a reminder, there is no limit on the number of cars, but the combined value must be under $65,000 to pass outside of probate to a surviving spouse.) Also, Ohio does NOT have automatic rights of survivorship for vehicles titled jointly owned with another person. Thus, if you want to continue owning your vehicles jointly with others, and you want those vehicles to avoid probate when you die, you should re-title those vehicles as JTWROS. 

2. If you own life insurance on the life of someone else, you should designate a contingent owner of the policy so that the policy does not have to be probated if you die before the insured person dies. To do this, you will need to process a change of ownership form with the life insurance company. Life insurance companies usually have their own change of ownership forms, so you would need to contact your life insurance company to obtain the form.  If you own a second-to-die life insurance policy jointly with another person, call the life insurance company and request that the policy ownership be changed to JTWROS.

3. Go to your bank and verify that the ownership of the account(s) reflects your wishes in your estate planning documents.  

You should also confirm that the beneficiary designations on your investment accounts do not contradict your wishes in your estate planning documents.

We want to note that sometimes going through probate can be a good thing, especially if family members do not get along.  As always, there is not a "one size fits all" approach to estate planning, so it's always best to consult an estate planning attorney before making decisions that most likely cannot be reversed after you die.