By: Sarah Stewart Legal Group

Many people we talk to are interested in making life as easy as possible for the loved ones they leave behind once they die.

One important way to help your family as much as possible is to provide an estate plan that avoids probate.  A great tool to avoid probate is a trust.  Sometimes, though, people are not comfortable with a trust.

There are still some ways to avoid probate if you do not want to use a trust.

(1) Transfer on Death Deed

In Oklahoma, real property can be transferred with a Transfer on Death Deed filed in the County where the property is held.  A benefit of the Transfer on Death Deed is that the property does not change ownership until the owner’s death. So, it is not subject to the creditor claims of beneficiaries and the owner can sell, lease, etc. at any time without agreement by the beneficiaries.

One con of the TOD Deed is if your heirs want to claim their interests in the property, they have to file an Affidavit and a death certificate within 9 months of the death of the owner. Otherwise, the property will become property of the deceased owner’s estate and have to go through probate.

(2) Payable on Death Accounts

Many banking institutions will allow you to name a payable on death beneficiary for your accounts.  Once you die, your beneficiary simply has to take your death certificate to the bank to access your accounts.  Of course, if the beneficiary dies before you do, you must be sure to update your information, or the money will go to your estate and have to go through probate.

(3) Beneficiaries

Life insurance, retirement accounts, stocks and bonds, and other assets will allow you to name a beneficiary, or several beneficiaries, to the account.  The beneficiary can access the accounts on your death without having to go through probate.  You will need to remember to keep your beneficiaries updated if you decide to go this route without any other estate plan.  If a beneficiary has died before you, your family will usually have to go through probate to clear up title for the company holding the assets.

(4) Joint Tenant with Rights of Survivorship

Real and personal property can be held as joint tenants with right of survivorship.  Think of when you own a bank account jointly with your spouse, or when you and your spouse purchase property together.  These are properties held as joint tenants with right of surviorship.  That means when one of you dies, the other gets full ownership of the property.

If you have a joint tenant on your property, that property is subject to the debts and liens of the other owner.  And, you must remember to make some sort of plan for after the survivor dies.  Otherwise, the property will have to go through probate.

If probate avoidance is your greatest estate planning goal, there are several ways you can accomplish your goal.  Be sure to reach out to professionals in order to help you find the most effective plan for you. And please remember, these options may not be the best for you if you are also concerned about planning for your incapacity.