At Gilfix & La Poll Associates LLP, we work with a variety of clients, including some individuals who wish to avoid or lessen their estate taxes. Some of our clients hope that that if they avoid the process of probate, they can also avoid federal estate taxes. And while both the process of probate and federal estate taxes are part of estate law, they are very different. Avoiding one does not negate the other.
Probate is a legal process which includes validating a decedent's will, and settling his or her estate. Probate assets are the assets owned by the decedent, such as a bank account -- assets that were not given a designated beneficiary, a joint owner or listed as part of a living trust.
Federal estate tax is a tax on assets the individual owned at death, such as a retirement account or an investment account. An individual may be required to pay federal estate taxes on assets, regardless of whether those assets went through probate.
If you have concerns about probate or federal estate taxes, and wish to avoid one or both, contact a qualified estate planning attorney at Gilfix & La Poll Associates LLP.
Michael Gilfix is an estate planning attorney in Palo Alto California and is one of the pioneers of elder law.