Probate is the legal process by which an estate is settled through the court system. Typically, an executor must file specific estate documents with the court, will validity must be proven, a list of debts and assets must be provided to the court and creditors and potential beneficiaries must be notified about the death of the deceased. All of this occurs before the settling of the estate, which means probate can be a lengthy process.
In addition to being lengthy, probate is usually often public. Lists of assets and debts that are filed with the court can be a matter of public record, which isn't something every family or person wants regarding their estate. This is where the value of trusts comes in for some estates. Trusts can help you avoid some of the delays of probate and can keep your estate details more private.
Assets that are held in a living trust, for example, pass through the probate process. That means they aren't held up by some of the court and legal delays and those assets might be made available to beneficiaries sooner rather than later. Since probate processes in complex cases can be held up months or even years, this is a critical benefit for heirs who are relying on estate assets for daily living costs.
As with most legal matters, though, it's not a simple answer. A trust doesn't automatically make things easier and doesn't necessary keep the entire estate out of probate. By working with a legal professional, you can understand all of your options and what the best paths for protecting yourself, your estate and your loved ones might be.
Source: National Caregivers Library, "The Basics of Probate," accessed March 04, 2016