Probate is not necessary for everyone.
There’s a good chance you have known someone who passed away, but then you didn’t see any probate court case opened. That’s because probate is only legally required in a limited number of circumstances.
The deceased person owned real estate (and no one else was named on the deed or designated as a beneficiary)
The deceased person owned assets that, combined, exceeded $66,000 in value.
If either of these conditions are true, somebody will have to open a probate case to get the assets legally transfered to the deceased person’s heirs and creditors.
Let’s say, for example, that you and your spouse own everything jointly and one of you passes away. The survivor between the two of you now owns everything alone, automatically, without the need for a probate process. (Please note that if your spouse has passed away, there are important tasks to complete even if no probate is necessary. There may, for example, be critical tax decisions to make, even if you are certain no estate tax will be due. The survivor should also take steps to remove the decedent from financial accounts and real estate deeds. You should consult with a CPA at your earliest convenience, and maybe a lawyer too. )
Or let’s say your primary asset is a retirement account, and you told the brokerage that holds it who should receive its funds on a designated beneficiary form. For better or worse, those instructions will get followed, regardless of whether a probate happens.
If your loved one had an LLC that held rental properties, or a living trust, probate may not be necessary either. Those entities should have instructions that give authority to the trustee or the successive owner to manage the assets.
If you still have questions continue reading our Do I Need A Lawyer section below.