By Alexis Levitt

Many people believe that having a valid will allows their estate to avoid probate. This is not the case. In fact, the probate process focuses on authenticating a decedent’s will (if there is one) and approving the named “personal representative” so that he or she can settle debts and distribute assets to beneficiaries.

I don’t mean to imply that wills are “bad.” A will can help ensure your wishes will be carried out after you pass away. It allows you to:

• Specify who receives your assets

• Name your personal representative (a person you trust to manage your estate)

• Name a guardian for minor or disabled children

• Simplify the process of selling real estate

• Make charitable gifts

At this point, you may be wondering why someone would want their estate to avoid probate?

One reason is that the probate process in Massachusetts typically lasts nine to 12 months, and in some cases, considerably longer. Your named beneficiaries will not be able to receive their inheritance until the process is complete. Probate is also a matter of public record, so anyone will be able to access information about your debts, assets, and more. Furthermore, probating an estate can be complicated and frustrating, resulting in added stress for grieving loved ones.

I frequently design plans to help my clients ensure their estates will avoid probate. We accomplish the goals highlighted in the list above, but we shrink the timeline considerably.

The bottom line is this: If one of your planning goals is to avoid probate, you may want to consider a trust-based plan rather than a will-based plan.

About the Author: Alexis Levitt practices elder law, special needs planning, estate planning, and veteran’s benefits. She sits on the board of the Massachusetts chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and represents it on the Massachusetts Coalition for Serious Illness Care. Alexis also sat on the board of the Norwell Council on Aging. Her office is in Norwell. You can reach her at 781-740-7269 or visit her website and blog for more information at