There are far more than four laws dealing with probate in Alabama. It's closer to an entire volume of the Alabama Code. If you're having trouble sleeping, let us know and we'll send you a copy. Although we find it fascinating, we suspect that you don't feel the same way. So instead, we've distilled four things about probate in Alabama that you might want to know or might be surprised to hear.
No One Can Tell You What It's Going to Cost
If someone tells you that probate is very expensive, or that it is very inexpensive, they may be trying to sell you something. It could be an overpriced living trust or an under-priced simple will. The truth is that no one can tell you how much probate is going to cost. A very simple probate with few assets and no problems could cost $1,500. But there are cases in Mobile County where the heirs fought, and the total cost ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The single factor that most contributes to high costs is heirs who disagree. The number and type of assets in the estate is also a significant factor. For example, bank accounts are easier to transfer than business interests. If you are concerned about probate costs, talk to your estate planning lawyer about strategies for preventing fighting and keeping costs down.
The Party Doesn't Start Until Everyone Gets an Invitation
Probate is a court proceeding that requires serving formal written notice on all the heirs and all known creditors of the person who died. This should be routine, and yet it's surprising how many times a probate hearing begins with the Judge pointing out a service problem. It is this kind of rule that makes some people say that probate is like filing a lawsuit against yourself. Service problems are usually cured, but the important thing to know is that everything is going to happen out in the open.
Young and Incapacitated People Get Their Own Lawyer (and You Pay for It)
There are built-in protections for heirs who are minors or unable to manage their own affairs, and the Probate Court is very sensitive to these requirements. If one of the heirs is under 19 or of unsound mind, the Court will almost always appoint a lawyer to represent that person's interest. This lawyer is called a guardian ad litem. Guardian ad litem fees will be billed to the person who filed the petition for probate.
You Can Avoid Probate, but You May Not Want To
There are lots of ways to avoid probate, including joint accounts, beneficiary designations, and payable-on-death designations. If not planned very carefully, these strategies can turn out badly. Living trusts can also avoid probate, and they tend to be more carefully planned. Probate in Alabama is not as costly or burdensome as in other states, so you may choose not to avoid it. The best approach is to talk to your estate planning lawyer about the best plan for your family.
So What Should You Do?
The Ladd Firm can help assess your concerns and determine what type of estate planning may be right for your family. If you want to know more about your estate and how it is affected by probate, register for a seminar or schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session by calling 251-431-6014.