Probate court is a legal proceeding, supervised by a judge, in order to validate a will. A will does not necessarily avoid the probate process, though it can obviously ease the process. The court appoints an executor to handle the affairs of the deceased, and this person is responsible for the identification and inventory of the estate's property, paying the debts and taxes on the estate, handing the heirs, and transferring the property to the beneficiaries. This requires the executor to be a highly trustworthy and responsible individual.
Obviously, with this many details to handle, the probate process can be time-consuming and expensive. Estate planning can ease this process. In addition, giving an inheritance without the probate process can be possible.
Setting up a trust is the most flexible method to avoiding probate, and anyone with more than $150,000 in assets ought to consider this option. Unlike a will, a living trust can hold the details of how to manage property after death or in the case of incapacity. Assets are not subject to probate as they are held in trust.
There are all types of families -- large and small, blended and nuclear, high-asset and modest -- and so there is no one solution for estate planning. Different estates require a different process, especially in regards to the amount or total worth of the estate. Working with an attorney can present various options and help you and your loved ones to tailor an estate planning solution that is right for you and for your assets.
Source: The Gazettes, "Estate Planning: Ways to Avoid Probate," Curtis Kaiser, Oct. 8, 2012