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Biggest Myths About Probate in DC

The laws of probate, trusts, and wills are complex, and they can vary greatly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Below, we address some troublesome myths we often hear regarding probate in DC. To learn more schedule a consultation with a DC probate lawyer today.

#1 If I Pass Away Without a Will, The State Gets Everything

If you pass away without last will and testament, the state where you reside or the District of Columbia provides default laws that dictate how your assets will be distributed and who has to serve as your personal representative. In the District of Columbia, when you do not have a will, your assets will typically go to your heirs, i.e., your spouse, your children, grandchildren, and your great grandchildren. If you do not have any children, assets go to your parents. If you do not have any parents, your estate may be distributed to your siblings, nieces, nephews, cousins, and so on. DC laws of intestacy dictate what percent of your estate each heir should receive. For example, if you have surviving children, but no surviving spouse; or surviving spouse and surviving children, or a surviving spouse and surviving children who are minors, the laws of intestacy provide for a different distribution of the assets of your estate.

#2 If I Have a Trust, My Family Does Not Need To Worry About Estate Tax

The most common misperception is that a revocable living trust avoids estate tax, but the document itself may no limit your estate’s exposure to estate tax liability.  There are provisions that need to be included in the trust that may help to minimize your estate tax exposure. In addition, there are several other ways to minimize an estate’s exposure to estate tax if that is an estate planning goal for you.

#3 If I Draft a Foolproof Will, My Family Can Avoid Probate

If there are any assets that are in your sole name on the day of your death with no beneficiary designation, joint owner, are not titled into the name of the trust, or are in your sole name, they will be subject to probate. Probate in the District of Columbia can be a streamlined procedure, which you may not want to avoid depending on the nature of your assets, family dynamic, and estate planning.

#4 I Don’t Need a Lawyer, I Can Draft My Own Documents On The Internet

Some of the hardest estates to administer are estates that have documents drafted by individuals who are not estate and trust attorneys. It is always best to consult with an estate and trust attorney when creating an estate plan. When someone drafts their own documents, there are practical errors that can occur. A person would only know by experience the pitfalls of drafting an estate plan. Unfortunately, we will often do not know if there are any of those errors in your plan until after your death, when it is too late to correct them.

#5 Probate is Bad And Should Be Avoided

Often a misconception by clients is the notion that probate should always be avoided. Probate can be a useful tool in estate administration. In DC, it can be a streamlined process. One of the aspects of probate that is beneficial is that it can force a fiduciary, personal representative, or a trustee to talk to estate and trust attorney so that they are aware of the deadlines and responsibilities involved in administering an estate. These include estate tax filing deadlines, income tax filing deadlines, or other responsibilities that are necessary or required during the administration process.