As many of our parents are getting older now is the time to have a talk with them. I understand that this talk will be uncomfortable, but trust me it will save a TON of money in the long run.
You may not know that I work in a law firm that specializes in family law (divorce, child custody, wills, trusts, probates, etc). These items I am going to list for discussion are simple things that can keep an estate out of probate if someone passes away. If an estate goes into probate, it is several hundred dollars just to file the matter and then more money to a lawyer. (Please remember though I am NOT a lawyer!)
Do your parents own any property? If they own a house or land then I suggest putting it in joint tenancy. The forms are easily found online and it only costs $13 (in Oklahoma) to file it. If a house is not in joint tenancy then you would need to file a probate action to be able to do anything with the house. Trust me, spend the $13 now.
Do your parents have a vehicle? If they do, then I suggest having your name put onto the title. If your parent passes, you are then able to sell the car without going through a probate procedure.
Do your parents have any stocks, bonds, bank accounts, pensions, annuities, etc? If so have them put your name down as POD (Payable on Death).
Do your parents have life insurance? If your parents have life insurance, have them review who the beneficiaries are and update all the contact information.
Do your parents have a Durable Power of Attorney? If not, then I suggest they get one. You can write a Durable Power of Attorney to only go into effect if a Doctor writes a statement that the person has become incompetent or are otherwise unable to take care of things on his or her own.
These are some—but not all—very simple tips that can help prevent you from having to file a probate in the future. Also, make sure you know where the paperwork is for everything. If does no good for your parents to have life insurance or a will or stocks and bonds if you have no idea where they are.
I am writing this since a few months ago we wrapped up a case for a client where, five years after a family member died, he found a bank account large enough to worry about probating the estate. He had additional fees since the case was so old, so he could have saved himself thousands of dollars by talking with his family member ahead of time.
It may not a happy talk to have with your parents, but it is a necessary one! I apologize if this seems morbid, but, to me it is a realistic thing to do and could save tons of money in the future.