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By John R. Merlino Jr. Esq.
Founding Attorney

Q: What is probate and why do people avoid it?

New York and New Jersey estate planning attorneys help people plan for their death and potential incapacity through the drafting of various legal documents collectively referred to as a comprehensive estate plan.

With respect to the distribution of assets and property after death, a last will and testament—also known as a will– or living trust or both may be utilized to transfer the decedent’s property.

Upon death, certain property and accounts transfer automatically without the necessity of court intervention. Some examples include joint bank accounts, retirement and 401(k) accounts, life insurance benefits, jointly-held real property, and more. Assets in a properly funded trust also pass to their intended beneficiaries and avoid the probate process.

Probate–also known as estate administration— is a court-managed process that governs the distribution of the assets of the deceased. It is a public process, meaning that the will is submitted to the court for administration and becomes a matter of public record.

Many people, including celebrities, prefer their affairs to remain private by transferring all or most of their assets through alternative means other than their wills. In addition to lack of privacy, estate administration can be more costly and time-consuming than the transfer of a decedent’s assets through a trust which can be done immediately and without court intervention or fees.

In the wake of the recent and tragic suicide of celebrity chef, Anthony Bourdain, news reports publicized alleged details of his will, including his reportedly being “worth just $1.2 million” rather than outsiders’ “estimates” of $16 million. In addition, they published such intimate alleged details as how his minor daughter and only child was to receive the remainder of his estate after his former wife disposed of such things as his frequent flyer miles, cars, furniture, and other household items “as she saw fit”. According to the articles, if his daughter had died before him, “the money would’ve gone to her nanny”.

Avoiding probate by using trusts would’ve maintained his and his family’s privacy which was already violated by widespread reporting on the tragic manner in which he died.

If you need assistance with an initial or modified or modified estate plan or need help with the administration of an estate or trust, the experts at Merlino & Gonzalez can help you. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

From our office in Staten Island, New York and East Brunswick, New Jersey, we serve clients in all areas of estate planning throughout New York and New Jersey.

About the Author
John is a fierce advocate and the office guru for problem-solving and brainstorming. He guides clients through every stage of a real estate transaction from offer to contract, navigating through nerve-shattering home inspection and title clearance concerns, maintaining constant contact with lenders, conducting the actual closing, and continuing to advise clients with regard to any post-closing concerns.  John brings a practical and fair-minded approach to the process which has earned him the respect of his clients and peers.