Many people do not realize that a will alone can cause assets to be held in probate court for months, even years. A will only directs where assets should go, not how they get there.

The probate process is closely supervised by the court and highly regulated by procedures mandated by probate law. Because the process often necessitates an attorney, a will alone often leads to unnecessary fees, costs and taxes.

Attorneys who handle probate matters typically charge from $250 to $400 per hour.

Probate fees, payable to the Treasurer, are based on the value of the probate estate. In Beaufort County, the fee to the County Treasurer alone would exceed $1,800 for a probate estate worth $1 million.

So you see how the money can add up.

A revocable living trust is an excellent way to avoid probate limbo. It is called revocable because it can be changed. It is a living trust because it is created while the creator (you, the “settlor” or “grantor”) is living.

Initially, the agreement is between the person making the trust and the person who is to benefit from the trust (the same person). The agreement also names who will serve as trustee once the creator becomes disabled or dies.

This allows all the assets legally titled in the name of the trust to pass automatically to the successor trustee (usually spouse, then children) upon disability or death.

All the trust assets are immediately transferred to the successor trustee with directions, avoiding probate altogether. That’s because the assets held in the trust are not considered probate assets. Without a trust, many assets can be probate assets, which require they be listed for all the public to see.

Allowing a loved one to avoid unnecessary probate with a trust is a valuable gift that can ease the pain of loss. It won’t make losing a loved one any easier, but it sure will reduce unwanted delay and cost.

Mark F. Winn, J.D., Master of Laws (LL.M.) in estate planning, is a local trust, asset protection, probate and estate planning attorney.