The process of probating a will and why it matters, is reviewed by nwi.com in the article “Estate Planning: Do wills need to be probated?” When most people refer to probate, they typically mean that a court appoints or approves a personal representative and opens the estate. If that is what is being described, an estate plan can be established without opening a probate estate. Not all wills are probated.

Bear in mind that the only assets subject to probate, are those that are controlled by the will. Assets that the decedent owned in his or her name alone without beneficiary designations are probate assets. If the asset is owned in two people’s names or contains a beneficiary designation or is a POD—Payable on Death—or TOD—Transfer on Death—those assets are not probate assets.

One reason to probate an estate, is to determine who receives the property of the person who has passed. If the account is owned jointly in two people’s names, typically a husband and wife or parent and child, then the surviving joint owner becomes the full owner at the time of death. A bank or financial institution will probably want to see a death certificate to verify that the other person on the account has passed.

This is also true for a CD—Certificate of Deposit—if there are two names on it.  It also applies to any real estate that is held in two names. Ownership for these assets, properly titled in more than one name, are not a big deal, if the titles have been done properly.

Therefore, using joint ownership or naming beneficiaries for most or all of the assets, removes the need to probate much of the will. However, in some instances, some attorneys like to present the will for probate, but ask that a personal representative not be appointed, and no estate opened. This is called “spreading the will for record” and it preserves the will. Wills need to be presented for probate within the statutory deadline for your state. These timeframes can range from six months to within three years of the death of the decedent (your estate planning attorney will know your state’s laws on this matter). If this is not done, then the will may not be accepted by the court as valid.

By spreading the will, the will is preserved in the outside chance that an asset is uncovered in the future, even after the statutory timeframe has expired. When the beneficiaries of the will are not the same as family members found under intestate statutes, like a pour-over will, where the trust receives all the property under the will, it makes this strategy especially valuable. Spreading the will further ensures that the trust estate plan will be carried out. Trusts are rarely presented to the court for probate.

In some regions, probate is a quick and relatively painless process. Depending on the situation, there may be little gained by over-engineering the estate just to avoid probate. Speak with your estate planning attorney about probate and also determine how much of your estate will be probate assets.

Reference: nwi.com (Jan. 20, 2019) “Estate Planning: Do wills need to be probated?”