The recent jobs report grabbed headlines by missing estimates, but some experts noted that unemployment is at a near-50 year low. The economy is slowing, but still expanding – how will the Fed react. Annex Wealth Management’s Dave Spano and Derek Felske discuss.


Probate may be one of the most misunderstood parts of the estate settlement process. Unfortunately, the term “probate” has garnered some negative connotations through headlines and heavily publicized cases that have gone wrong and dragged on for years. 

Your Money Do this week: get a better understanding of what probate is, and when it may be necessary.

Probate is the court-supervised process to validate an individual’s Last Will & Testament and legally transfer ownership of property to the named beneficiaries, while protecting the rights of all heirs and creditors. That’s right, having a Will alone does not avoid the probate process. So, if your estate plan relies on a Last Will, your loved ones may end up in Probate Court after your death! The probate process is also used if an individual dies without a Will.

Probate is necessary if you own assets in your sole name at death and there are no joint owners, beneficiary designations, transfer on death or payable on death instructions on the account.

Types of Assets And Accounts That Typically Avoid Probate:

  • Jointly Owned Property – such as joint with right of survivorship between spouses or joint bank accounts.
  • Accounts and Assets with beneficiaries, transfer on death (“TOD”) directions or payable on death (“POD”) provisions.
  • In addition, the State of Wisconsin has a small estate settlement option that avoids probate, if your individual assets are less than $50,000 in total. The amount and options vary by state.
  • Additional options available to avoid probate include Revocable Trusts, and potentially Marital Property Agreements in some states.

When Probate Could Be A Better Option

In some circumstances, probate may be a better course of action, such as:

  • If you were to die with minor children who need to have a legal guardian appointed to take care of them going forward.
  • If you die with more debts than you have assets, as the probate court will help settle your final debts with your creditors.
  • When family members and beneficiaries do not get along and may contest any aspect of your estate plan, the probate court is the final decision maker on any disputes that may arise.

If Probate Is Necessary

If probate is needed, the named personal representative (aka executor) will open an estate proceeding in Probate Court to be legally appointed to act on behalf of the estate. Without the legal appointment by the court, the personal representative has no power. The probate process is public in nature and, on average, takes between 9 and 15 months to complete.

The timeframe is not necessarily shorter when using some of the other non-probate transfer options previously mentioned, as there is always a process to settle one’s affairs after death even without probate.

Estate proceedings are often done under the guidance of an estate or probate attorney.

The personal representative is given all powers necessary to settle your affairs, which includes the power to identify, collect, and manage assets while ensuring all debts, expenses, claims and taxes are paid prior to making any distributions to named beneficiaries.

During the court process there are a variety of filing and notice requirements that the personal representative must adhere to along the way.

If you’re concerned about Probate, you should get in contact with an estate planning attorney that can advise you on alternatives and help implement a comprehensive estate plan.


This week’s Ask Annex response was prepared by our Director of Client Learning & Development, Deanne Phillips, CFP®, CDFA®:

If you’re considering a move for tax reasons, keep in mind that “moving” is different than changing domicile — which is the location of your principal, permanent home.

Your tax benefits – including no state income tax in those states that don’t have it – usually follow your declared domicile. Some states do have criteria-driven statutes that help to determine your domicile – such as how many days in the year you must stay there.

But there is much more to proving where your main, permanent home is than residing a number of days at the residence. You may be asked about where your driver’s license and voting registration are, where your doctors or other professionals reside, or even where your important household possessions are. Remember, you can have many residences, but you can declare only one domicile.