Halloween is approaching quickly, and the spooky season is already in full swing. Whether you’re a haunted house person or someone who’s a little less adventurous, the Halloween season is a way for you to celebrate the season. The candy, pumpkins, and horror movies aside, Halloween isn’t the only scary thing out there. While “probate court” might sound about as scary as a Disney movie, there’s a lot more to those two words than meets the eye. Here are the top ten spookiest things about probate court:
10. The Time
Probate court is where estates go to be divided up after the decedent’s (dead person’s) death. The estates are carved up like Jack O’ Lanterns to pay off debts and dissolve the disputes as quickly as possible. However, “quickly” doesn’t mean the same thing in the court system that it means to the rest of the world. The average probate process takes from several months to a year. That’s a long time to be tangled up in the courts.
9. Dragging Your Family Through All That
Not to mention, you won’t be the one in court for several months to a year—your family will be. They’ll be stuck in the snowfall of documents and court dates, and it will be exhausting and boring and tiring. If it couldn’t be avoided, that would be one thing. But estate planning that is thorough would prevent you from dragging your family through the court system.
8. Your Prized Possessions—Gone
You probably have favorite possessions. Maybe it’s a prized painting or a savings account that you’ve been letting sit for years. If your estate is left with no trust or will, probate will decide how your assets are divided up. That prized painting might be sold and the proceeds given to a creditor or used to pay off court fees (see #3).
7. Small Business Owners Beware
Small business owners need estate planning just as much as individuals do. If there is no estate plan and the business is part of the estate, it might be taxed to death or become the subject of dispute after dispute. Even if the small business issue is settled, the legal furor surrounding your business won’t be good for it. Something you’ve worked so hard on deserves to be kept out of the probate courts.
The court system is also confusing. Lawyers spend three years figuring out the law and taking the bar exam to prove they are competent in it. And even lawyers acknowledge that the system is confusing. Probate court is no exception.
5. Not A Good Legacy to Leave Behind
Above all, probate court should not be what your family remembers about you. When you leave behind a legacy, you want it to be something your family will celebrate, not think of with any negative connotations. And probate court is nothing if not a negative-connotation-producer.
4. You’re One of Many
Your home and assets are unique to you. You know everything about them, and every asset likely has some special attachment for you. However, probate court makes you one of many estates getting sorted out. There won’t be much regard for divvying up your possessions. Your estate deserves more than a disposition by someone who has never met you.
3. The Expense
Court fees are expensive. The expenses will come from your estate, first and foremost. However, the hundreds of dollars of fees add up, unsurprisingly. Probate court’s expense is definitely one of the spookiest things about it. The fees take money from your estate that could have gone to your loved ones.
2. Executors You Might Not Have Picked
The court appoints an executor for you. They’ll start with family, but they might appoint someone that you personally would not have picked. However, with no estate plan there to avoid it, your first choice for executor might get totally overlooked and your estate placed in the hands of someone you didn’t want.
Debtors are the top spot on this special Halloween edition of the horrors of probate court. Your assets will pay off creditors. Without an estate plan to set aside trusts or other instruments, your prized possessions could go straight into the hands of your creditors, not your family.
Hopefully, these top ten scariest things about probate have convinced you to hire an estate attorney and make sure your family doesn’t get a close-up and personal look at the ghouls and goblins of probate court. Happy Halloween!