The court costs associated with probating an estate have become sky high and when you add attorney's fees on top, it's no wonder so many people are finding other ways to handle their affairs. With the growing popularity of the internet, people are turning to forms that have been prepared by lawyers to avoid the costs of probate so long as there is nothing complex with which to deal. Otherwise, you might be wise to pay a lawyer so there are no glitsches in your plan.
Create a revocable living trust (RLT) as a popular way to shield assets from probate. During your lifetime, you will be free to do whatever you wish with the assets in a RLT, but at your death, the assets of the trust will not be probated and it either can continue on for the benefit of your heirs or be distributed to them whereupon the trust will be terminated. The added benefit is that you can name anyone to continue running things if you should become incapacitated. For an example of the form used for a typical RLT, go to http://www.ilrg.com/forms/trustrev.html.
Make gifts to your heirs before you pass away. In 2010, you could give each of your heirs assets valued up to $13,000 and avoid gift tax. And since those assets will belong to them, not you, when you die, they will not be included in a probate estate.
Avoid probate of your bank accounts, IRA or other retirement accounts, by simply signing a form where the funds will be paid to heirs that you designate automatically upon your death. You can also do this with stock, life insurance policies and even your automobile in many states.
Choose joint tenancy with right of survivorship and you will automatically transfer real estate to your heirs upon your death that also avoids probate of those assets. Or if you are married, place your and your spouses names on the deed as "tenants by the entireties" and the property will pass to your spouse if you should die and avoid probate.