Now that the federal estate tax exemption has been raised to $5.25 million, there may be people in the Washington, D.C. area who don't believe they need their estate plan to avoid probate. However, that may not be the case. Even though no federal estate tax may be due on the majority of estates, that doesn't mean that probate is okay. Probate is not a federal process, but a state process with its own challenges.
Probate can be expensive and time consuming. It could take months and even years for your beneficiaries to receive the property that the person making the will wanted them to have. The amount of the assets could also be diminished since the state will often end up paying all of the costs and fees associated with the probate.
The goal of probate is to obtain clear title to the decedent's property and assets, pay the debts left behind by the deceased person, and then transfer that property and assets to the beneficiaries. This goal is the same whether there is a will or not. Probate is also a public process since the will is filed with the court and any pleadings filed in the probate are also available to the public.
For these reasons, it may be a good idea for Washington, D.C. residents to go ahead and have an estate plan drawn up that will avoid probate. Many people decide to avoid probate in order to ensure that their beneficiaries receive the maximum benefit from whatever assets or property the decedent leaves behind. If that is the case, then it may be necessary to have more than just a will.
Source: investingdaily.com, "To Avoid Probate or Not?" Bob Carlson, July 31, 2013