Over the years I've heard and read the comments about why probate "really isn't that bad" and doesn't "cost that much" or "take too long." But usually these comments come from someone who has never even had to deal with probate, and over the years I've been convinced that everyone should try to avoid probate. Here's why:
- Yes, it's really true, it can take weeks or sometimes months to gain access to the decedent's cash. And during that time you'll be footing the bill for everything from the funeral, to utilities, to property insurance, to taxes, to storage fees.
- Court approval is often required for many things including continuing or selling the decedent's business, repairing or selling real estate, or abandoning worthless assets (think timeshares with high annual maintenance fees).
- With courts all across the country in a financial crisis and hurting for funding, one way to raise revenue is to increase court filing fees. This was debated in Florida where it was proposed that the probate filing fees be increased to as much as $5,000 just to open up the estate. Instead the fee for opening a formal probate estate was raised from $285 to $400. Currently in Maryland the probate fees for a regular estate range from $50 to over $2,500.
- Probate is a state court proceeding, which makes all of the information about the decedent's assets, liabilities, beneficiaries, and Personal Representatives a public record. And anyone can go to the court house and ask to see the entire probate file for any estate and no one at the clerk's office will care why, and in some states the entire probate file is available online.