By Julie M. Ryan

Probate is a legal process for distributing a deceased person’s estate. Depending on the circumstances, it can be lengthy and costly. For example, documents must be prepared and timely filed with the probate court; assets must be located and inventoried according to the value of the asset on the date of the death of the decedent; bills, expenses, and applicable taxes must be paid; and, eventually, assets must be distributed properly to the beneficiaries or heirs in accordance with the terms of the decedent’s will and/or Nebraska law.

In Nebraska, a deceased person’s estate generally must pass through probate, whether the person had executed a valid will during his or her lifetime or not. But there are exceptions for when a probate action can be avoided as to some or all of a deceased person’s assets. For instance, you may opt to distribute your estate via a trust. An attorney can assist you with including language in your trust tailored to your unique needs and estate planning goals. You may consider adding a payable-on-death beneficiary designation to your bank account to the extent you have an account that allows such designation. You may also choose to name one or more beneficiaries via a transfer-on-death form for your investment accounts. There are similar options available to pass on real estate and qualifying types of motor vehicles to individuals outside of the probate process. You may also consider naming beneficiaries on your life insurance, retirement plans, and/or annuities.

Any property or share in property you own jointly with another person during your life generally automatically passes to any surviving joint owner. Further, Nebraska allows some small estates to be transferred to heirs via a small estate affidavit. Keep in mind any asset to which you name a beneficiary will become an asset subject to probate if all named beneficiaries predecease you. Consider adding contingent beneficiaries when possible.

Regardless of the size of your estate, you should consider discussing with an attorney what estate planning options are right for you. Abrahams Kaslow & Cassman LLP has over 75 years of experience in helping its clients create and execute wills and trusts as well as carry out complex wealth transfers. Contact jryan@akclaw.com to learn more