Losing a loved one and grieving for their loss can be difficult and draining enough. But it can become more challenging if you have to deal with some legal processes associated with the decedent’s estate. One of them is the process called probate. It’s defined as a legal proceeding used to administer an estate after a person dies or to validate the deceased individual’s Will. It’s usually initiated after the person passes away or after the death record is filed with the court.
However, despite the importance of probate in settling the decedent’s estate, you may still find yourself intimidated by this legal proceeding. At some point, you may ask yourself what usually happens in the probate court and what to expect from it.
Keep reading this article to learn what to expect from a probate proceeding.
- Determination Of Whether Probate Is Required
Before the actual probate proceeding takes place, you first need to determine whether probate is required for your situation. Generally, probate is necessary when an individual dies without a Will, the Will is invalid, there’s a considerable number of titled assets that need to be transferred, or the beneficiaries predecease the deceased person.
To know if your deceased loved one’s estate requires probate, consult a lawyer right away. They can check the assets and other essential details to figure out the necessity for probate. If the said legal process is required, they can also give you an idea about the probate timeline.
In most cases, this legal process takes a few months or a year to complete, depending on the case’s complexity and other factors. These can include the size of the estate, complicated financial interests by the creditors, or challenges to the decedent’s Will. To properly know if the estate needs to be probated before distributing the assets to the designated beneficiaries, make sure to consider these factors.
- Filing Of Documents With The Probate Court
To formally begin the probate proceeding, you’re expected to file the necessary documents, such as the Petition for Probate of Will and other specific forms associated with the estate administration and executor or administrator appointment. These documents should be filed with the clerk of court in the country of residence of the deceased individual.
Moreover, it’s vital to ensure all the papers are complete to streamline the probate process. If you’re unsure of what to do, you can hire an experienced probate lawyer to navigate the filing process properly. They’re familiar with filing the proper documents to ensure a more straightforward probate proceeding.
- Appointment Of the Executor Or Administrator
Once the probate documents are filed, the next thing to expect is the appointment of the executor or administrator who will be in charge of the administration and distribution of the decedent’s estate. If there’s a Will, the probate court will determine the person’s qualification named by the decedent and appoint them if qualified. If there’s no Will, the court will appoint a personal representative or administrator.
After the appointment, the court will issue Letters of Testamentary to the executor or Letters of Administration to the administrator. This document will serve as their authority to administer the estate on behalf of the decedent.
- Filing Of Public Notice
Another thing to expect from a probate process is the filing of public notice in the local newspaper of the decedent’s place of residence and sending of notice to the creditors, heirs, and other persons with financial interests to notify them about the decedent’s death.
Typically, this part of the probate proceeding is necessary to inform those who believe they have a monetary claim against the deceased person’s estate and file the essential cases before it becomes too late.
- Taking Of Inventory Of The Estate
If you’re the executor or administrator of the estate, you need to file an inventory to determine the value of the decedent’s estate. You can do this by conducting a valuation process of all the assets, including the real and personal properties, bank accounts, investments, and even those which aren’t included in the Will, if there are any. Once the inventory is complete, you have to submit a report to the court and the heirs and beneficiaries.
- Payment Of Debts And Taxes
As an executor or personal representative, you’re also expected to pay all the debts and taxes due from the estate. Ensure to account for all the financial obligations, including the tax liabilities, for the proper payment thereof.
However, check the probate court’s local rules or work with a legal professional for guidance if you’re not sure of some aspects. This is especially true if you have complicated tax obligations that need to be settled before distributing the remainder of the assets.
- Distribution Of The Remaining Assets
After settling all debts and taxes, the remaining assets included in the estate will be distributed to the heirs and beneficiaries. If there’s a valid Will, the distribution will be based on the decedent’s express wishes. If there’s no Will, the assets will be given to certain people under the intestate succession laws of the state where the deceased person resided. The court will supervise the entire process to ensure the executor or administrator is acting with fair judgment until everything is settled.
- Estate Closing
When all the debts, bills, and taxes are fully paid, and the assets are distributed to the right people, the closing of the estate will thereafter take place. To close the estate, the executor or administrator will file a petition for the dissolution of the estate along with the receipts with the probate court. Once the petition is approved, the closure will become a public record, and your role as an executor or personal representative is finally over.
Probate can be a tricky undertaking to handle. Without the proper knowledge, you may have difficulty handling the process. But, by keeping the information mentioned above in mind, you’ll know what to expect from the probate proceeding. Although it’s an intimidating procedure for many, probate can be manageable if you’re familiar with the steps involved. With legal help and adequate research, you can ensure a much easier and quicker settlement of the decedent’s estate in no time.