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  • Writer's pictureJohn Stevens

How to Avoid Months of Headaches

Frequently, local judges have a day when they make all lawyers and litigants come to court and tell the judge what is going on with the case. They call it "docket call." Recently, I was at docket call and something stood out.

The room was full. Lawyers everywhere and the gallery was full of folks who had to take off work, drive to the courthouse and wait around for their case to be called.

The lawyers sat in the courtroom waiting for their case to be called. Some were there over two hours. They were billing the file the whole time. The time it took to drive to the courthouse (and back to the office). Billing for sitting in the courtroom waiting to be called.

To the frustration of everyone, it took the lawyer just a few minutes to tell the judge what was going on with the case. Nearly the entire docket was made up of probate estate cases. For some, this exercise could cost over $1000! (depending upon the lawyers hourly billing rate).

While calling cases, the judge stated in open court that in the last sixty days, nothing simple came before him and all the cases were very convoluted. When I hear that, I hear those cases are costing the families thousands of dollars in lawyer fees. It is such a shame. Wouldn't it be helpful if there were another way?

Of course there is. Avoiding probate - and the costs and delays it brings - is something I am passionate about. For most families, there is little benefit to being drug through this expensive and time consuming process. How can it be avoided? Here are a few simple tips:

1. Be sure to have payable on death or transfer on death designations on your insurance policies or financial accounts that are not marital or joint accounts.

2. Do not name your estate as the designated beneficiary on insurance polices or financial accounts.

3. Establish a living trust and either transfer ownership of your assets to the trust or name the trust as the designated beneficiary.

These simple steps can help your family avoid probate costs and delays. Warning - be careful about joint ownership and beneficiary designations. There are downsides. To learn more, work with your financial adviser and your estate planning attorney to develop a plan that fits your family's needs.

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