In general, any item exceeding $20,000 in value is considered a probate asset. The courts will assess taxes and charges against an asset based on its value, then distribute it according to the will.
Examples of non-probate assets include money market, CD and pension accounts; life insurance; and annuities, as long as each is valued under $20,000.
The greatest costs of probate are the paperwork, publication of notices, public court hearings and creditor checks. The prices for such services depend on the jurisdiction and are set by the statutes or courts.
In some states, wills are constructed as trusts to avoid probate. Legislation and laws allowing such loopholes vary from state to state.
Trusts and joint tenancy's create avenues to avoid what some see as excessive taxation of valuable goods, especially when transferred to family members.
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