There Are Many Ways to Minimize Probate
Updated: Aug 4, 2018
Some attorneys strongly advise their clients to establish revocable living trusts in order to avoid probate, but there are alternate ways to avoid or minimize probate. Keep in mind that "probate property" is property titled in a decedent's sole name. Keep in mind also that Connecticut's probate fee is based on the entire estate -- not just the probate property. In other words, "avoiding probate" refers to avoiding probate court supervision, not the probate fee.
First, revocable living trusts only avoid probate to the extent that they are funded before death. Funding a revocable living trust means titling property in the name of the trust -- technically, in the name of the trustee. Property that is (still) titled in a decedent's sole name, even if the decedent established a revocable living trust during lifetime, will not avoid probate court supervision.
Second, funding a trust is not the only way to avoid or minimize probate. Non-probate property avoids probate supervision. For example, in Connecticut, property that is jointly owned with a right of survivorship avoids probate. Upon the death of one co-owner, jointly held property passes to the surviving owner as a matter of law.
Non-probate property also includes "beneficiary designation property" such as life insurance, annuities, 401(k)s and IRAs. As long as a living beneficiary is properly listed on the institution's beneficiary designation form, this property, too, passes as a matter of law. Bank accounts that are “payable on death” avoid probate, as do automobiles with “transfer on death” registrations.
Finally, probate for “small estates” in Connecticut, currently those with assets under $40,000, is an expedited, largely streamlined process.
Revocable living trusts have many valuable and versatile features, but funding a revocable living trust is not the only way to avoid or minimize probate.