Understanding the Probate Process

Understanding the Probate Process

Probate is the process where your debts are settled and the legal title to your property is transferred to your beneficiaries and heirs after your death. If you have a will, and your property is subject to probate, the process begins when the executor presents the will for probate in the jurisdiction where you lived or owned property.

If you don’t have a will at the time of your death, someone has to ask the court to appoint them as the administrator of your estate. In most cases, this is your former spouse or an adult child.

Opening the Probate Estate

There are several steps that must be followed when opening a probate estate. However, some steps can be skipped if you don’t have a Last Will and Testament at the time of your death. The steps included in this process are:

  • Locate and read the Last Will and Testament
  • Create a list of all fiduciaries and beneficiaries named in the will
  • Create a list of all assets
  • Create a list of all liabilities
  • Find and meet with a probate lawyer
  • Review and sign all the documents needed to open the probate estate
  • Wait to hear back from the probate lawyer hired
  • Provide a certified copy of all probate orders to the financial institutions

This is generally the process that will be followed. The probate lawyer will let your family know if something may be able to be skipped.

Inventory

Probate inventory occurs when a will is submitted for probate. This must be done accurately and properly. To do this, the executor or administrator has to know what assets are included in the estate, as well as their value. In some situations, the court will appoint an appraiser or referee to determine the actual value of certain, non-cash assets.

The inventory process has several purposes. It updates the court on the estate’s value and ensures that the proper fees are paid to the court and the probate attorney.

Distribution and Closing the Estate

While you may hear the term “closing the estate,” there is actually no such thing. An estate is never actually closed, but distribution does occur, which is when the estate’s final assets are distributed. This is also when the executor’s job is essentially done. However, the executor will remain the executor indefinitely and handle issues that may arise down the road.

Wills vs. Intestacy

You know by now that a will dictates what you want to do with your assets and property after your death. But, what happens if you don’t have a will?

If this is the situation, then a process called “intestate succession” is used. Essentially this means if you don’t have a will, the state makes one for you. They will determine how to distribute assets and property based on state statutes. This may or may not be your wishes, which is why it is so important to have an estate plan in place.

As you can see, the probate process can be difficult and complex. Having an estate plan in place can help ensure your family members know your wishes, reducing the stress and hassle related to probate.