Four Quick Tips to Help Your Family Through Probate

By Brittany Midgette, Elder & Disability Law Clinic Student, Fall 2018

Making an estate plan can be a difficult task. However, it is important to keep in mind that your estate plan is not only for you. Having a proper estate plan takes some of the stress off of loved ones’ hands because it means you have done some of the work for them. You have provided the road map for them to follow. If you do not have a plan in place, it can mean that your family has to make difficult decisions at a time when they are not in the best mindset to do so. There are many things you can do now to make the process easier for family members later on. Here are some quick tips to keep in mind:

  • Choose an executor carefully. If you are choosing among your children who should be your executor, you should not choose your executor simply based on who is the oldest child. Your executor should be someone who is best equipped to manage your assets, complete documents for the court, and is able to handle conflicts fairly and calmly. Choosing the proper executor is essential to having your probate process run smoothly.
  • Talk to your family sooner rather than later. After you’ve executed estate planning documents, it is important to discuss your plan with your family. At the very least, your proposed executor should know that he or she is going to be your executor, so your executor can be prepared. Talking to your family now about your plans means less surprises later on when you are no longer able to discuss your reasons behind your decisions.
  • Keep good records of your assets and finances. You should have documents on all of your assets and finances, and you should keep them together and in a safe place. The value of your assets determines the type of estate you will have, and therefore the type of filing and process to distribute your estate. Often, family members don’t have any idea of the assets an individual has or what institution these assets are held with. Having documentation for these things already compiled for your executor will prevent them from going on a wild goose chase or being surprised later on.
  • Tell your executor where your will is. Make sure your family members, especially your executor, knows where you keep your will and/or other estate planning documents. If you’ve executed these documents, you’ve done a good thing, but if no one can find the documents when they become necessary, it will make the process much more difficult than it needs to be.

By following these guidelines, you can help make a difficult situation a little less difficult for your family.