Myth: “If I have a will, I don’t have to worry about probate.”

Sonia smiled to herself. She had just signed a will, and now felt that her children would never have to bear the expense and time of probate court. The house and accounts could all transfer without any hassle. So she thought.

After Sonia had passed away, her family found there was much more to do. Probate was required after all, to deal with Sonia’s house, investments, and other obligations. The process stretched on for months.

Although people sometimes believe that the act of making a will is sufficient to avoid probate, in many instances the will only serves as a map for the probate process. Probate court is not limited to those who die without a will.

A will has some fairly traditional parts. For example, it often describes the immediate family and names someone to serve as the Executor. It may identify certain property to be given to a particular individual. It may specify how taxes and expenses of the estate are to be paid. And it may have other provisions designed to streamline the time, cost, and expense of a probate proceeding.

But it does not avoid probate.

Probate is the process by which any claims and debts are paid, and the remaining assets are distributed. It usually is required for estates with assets over $100,000, and for estates in which the decedent owned land in his own name, unless another arrangement eliminates the need for probate.

One way to dependably avoid probate is by creating a trust. Other estate planning techniques can also provide ways to keep certain kinds of assets out of probate. And real estate, financial accounts, or other personal property titled in joint tenancy would not be required to go through a probate proceeding as long as one of the joint tenants is alive.

By putting the right pieces together, a comprehensive estate plan can provide the continuity Sonia was aiming for. Which ones apply in your family?