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Real estate Q&A: Living trust avoids hassle and expense of probate

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Feb. 12, 2015 – Question: I own a condo in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that I live in every winter before going back to New York. I maintain my main house and my finances back home. What happens to my condo when I die?

_ Ruth

Answer: When you pass away with assets in your name, your family typically will have to go through the probate court process. A personal representative, or executor, will be put in charge of getting all of your stuff together, paying off your creditors and giving the remainder to your heirs.

When you make a will, you basically are leaving instructions as to how you want this probate process handled. Unfortunately, probate can be expensive (you need an attorney) and time-consuming. Probate typically is handled in the state in which you primarily lived – in your case, New York.

The probate would deal with your main house, bank accounts, cars and other assets, but you still would need a secondary probate, called “ancillary probate” in Florida, just to deal with the condo.

Fortunately, there are several ways to avoid having to go through this. The easiest way is to create a living trust, in which you, as trustee, do with the property as you please. And you can change it whenever you want. After you pass away, the successor trustee already designated by you will transfer the condo to your chosen heir without having to go through probate.

Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He is the chairperson of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is an adjunct professor for the Nova Southeastern University Paralegal Studies program.

The information and materials in this column are provided for general informational purposes only and are not intended to be legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is formed. Nothing in this column is intended to substitute for the advice of an attorney, especially an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

Copyright © 2015 Sun Sentinel, Gary M. Singer. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.