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Some comments on vkg's post:

b.) Probate in my area takes a minimum of a year. It took almost 3 months to obtain Letters of Administration. Fortunately, we have a family lawyer that is good and can be trusted.

c.) Probate is more expensive than a handling a trust.

Both of these statements are entirely dependent on the state where the decedent lived. If the state has "difficult" probate processes (like yours), a trust is simpler and cheaper. If the state has "easy" probate, the trust can be more expensive.

It depends is always a safer answer.

There are a number of steps in probate that require specific wait times. My father's probate which was done in another state was quicker. His lawyer who was local handled it. It was cheaper and faster than the current probate.

b.) 401K and IRAs are administered through separate organizations within the same brokerage.

I have never had a problem getting the names of the designated beneficiaries, even in a situation where I wasn't the official Administrator. (I was the contingent Administrator, the primary Administrator had declined to serve. I was awaiting official appointment as nine months after death approached, and needed the information to prepare disclaimers.) This reinforces your earlier point to make sure beneficiary designations are up-to-date.

I have found that the handling of IRAs and 401Ks after death is usually done by the same department - one that specializes in estate/decedent issues.

i.) Provided Death Certificate and Letters of Administration to the retail broker. They said they would forward it to their 401K administrator.

I only contact retail broker to determine who to contact at Corporate. Or I call the 800 number on the broker's website and work through their customer support team.

This was my first time of handling a 401K in probate. Finding the corporate rep was the first milestone. Then the corporate rep flat told me that they would not tell me even if a beneficiary was specified. The contact point to have the 401K moved to the estate was corporate. I was prevented from contacting the estate department of the broker until after corporate had arranged the authorization to transfer it to the estate EIN. Many companies may make the process easier. This one didn't.

Adding one more point:
When specifying beneficiaries make certain you know the name they are using. I didn't change my name when I married. My sister decided that I had. It was another set of paperwork because the beneficiary name was not a name that I had ever used. My SSN was specified correctly which did help.
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