No. While a will allows you to nominate an executor, appoint a guardian to care for your children, and direct the distribution of assets at the time of your death, it can’t exempt your estate from going through the probate process.
In Kentucky, having a will isn’t what determines whether the probate courts must administer an estate. Instead, it’s the size of the estate—the amount of assets—and how they’re titled that controls the decision.
Here’s what you should know about probate in the Bluegrass State, including strategies for avoiding it and how Skeeters, Bennett, Wilson & Humphrey can create a robust estate plan that simplifies legal processes for your family in your absence. We also help surviving family members manage Kentucky probate after the death of a loved one.
Most Estates Must Go Through Probate
Probate is the process of settling and administrating estates that involves winding up the decedent’s financial matters, including collecting assets, paying debts, and distributing any remaining property according to the terms of a will. If the person passes without a will, the property is distributed in accordance with Kentucky statutes that control who inherits the decedent’s estate.
Most Kentucky estates must go through the probate court. Here’s a brief overview of the process and what it entails.
Locating the Original Will
Find the deceased person’s original will and file a petition asking the District Court judge to admit the will to probate and appoint an executor to administer and settle the estate according to its terms.
Proving the Will
There are three main types of wills:
- Self-proving, which includes statute-specific language and the notarized signatures of two witnesses; these wills stand on their own and don’t require anyone to testify to their validity
- Non-self-proving, which includes witness signatures that aren’t notarized, can be confirmed by one of the two witnesses who signed the document
- Holographic, which are written entirely in the decedent’s own hand (typically outside the presence of witnesses), requires two people familiar with the handwriting to testify to its authenticity in court
Administering and Settling the Estate
Next, the executor or personal representative takes over the management and protection of the estate and its assets.
In addition to the obligation to act in the best interests of estate heirs, personal representatives must file an inventory of estate assets and their values at the time of the decedent’s death with the District Court, in duplicate, within 60 days of their appointment to the role.
To settle the estate, the executor:
- Settles outstanding debts
- Pays income or death taxes
- Distributes remaining assets to heirs and beneficiaries
- Prepares and files a final settlement with the District Court
Completing the probate process usually takes at least six months. However, cases involving particularly complex estates can take longer.
Reasons and Strategies for Avoiding Kentucky Probate
In addition to being public record, meaning the details of your estate will be open to the public, probate can sometimes be long, costly, and confusing., With careful advance planning, there are often ways to avoid it. Common probate exemptions and avoidance strategies include the following.
Revocable Trusts With Named Beneficiaries
Revocable trusts are set up, funded, and controlled by the grantor during their lifetime. The named beneficiaries take control of the specified assets after the grantor’s death according to the terms of the trust document, eliminating the need for them to go through probate.
Jointly Owned Assets With Right of Survivorship
Jointly owned assets with the right of survivorship don’t require probate administration. When one owner dies, the asset automatically transfers to the surviving owner, without having to go through probate or follow a will or trust’s specific distribution instructions. This type of ownership is often used for real estate, bank accounts, investments, and vehicles.
Assets With Named Beneficiaries
Bank accounts, life insurance policies, investment accounts, retirement accounts, and other assets with designated beneficiaries aren’t included in Kentucky probate. Because they’re earmarked for specific heirs, the assets pass directly to their beneficiaries.
Dispensing With Administration
When the estate in question is $30,000 or less, Kentucky law allows the surviving spouse, children, or a preferred creditor to file a Petition to Dispense with Administration, asking the Probate Court for an order declaring that the assets pass to them immediately. Since it doesn’t require appointing an executor or paying creditors, small estate administration offers a simplified approach for people with modest estates.
Providing Compassionate Support and Skilled Legal Guidance for the Estate Planning and Probate Processes
Estate planning can be intimidating—but it doesn’t have to be. Our experienced Central Kentucky estate planning and elder law attorneys in Radcliff can help you craft a comprehensive estate plan to meet your needs. We can help you decide if a will-based plan is right for you, or if you would be better served by a trust-based plan.