Some property owners in Georgia may be under the misconception that creating a will ensures that their property will necessarily go to the beneficiary they identify. Before property or assets in a will are distributed, they must go through the probate process, which can take months or even years to complete and result in costly fees.

When a will goes through probate, it becomes a matter of public record, and “interested parties” are given the opportunity to contest the will. Interested parties include creditors who were owed money by the decedent, beneficiaries of the will and family members who were left out of the will. A court can find that a will is invalid for various reasons, such as if it was signed under undue duress.

Asset holders who want to avoid the probate process may want to consider a living trust as an alternative to a will. A living revocable trust can be changed during a trustor’s lifetime, meaning that beneficiaries and assets can be added or removed. Irrevocable trusts cannot be changed, but they may offer certain tax benefits.

A trust fund may be a better option for someone who has minor children. Children are not allowed to own property, but property that is given to children can be left in a trust until the children turn 18. Parents can also allocate certain amounts of money for different purposes, like college or a wedding.

Other assets that tend to stay out of probate court are retirement assets with a named beneficiary. If possible, retirement account holders should name a contingent beneficiary in case the first beneficiary dies, and it is a good idea to update an estate plan whenever there is a death in the family. An attorney who handles probate and estate planning may help individuals who are looking to create or modify their estate plan.