Probate is the legal process that officially proves the validity of a will. This includes an inventory of the decedent’s property, resolving all debts and claims, and distribution of the decedent’s estate. Each state and territory has a general probate law, however, each probate case is administered by the Supreme court and it is best to contact it for information about your local probate process.
THE PROBATE PROCESS
The formal probate process may be necessary depending on the value of the decedent’s assets. The probate process can be lengthy and complex taking as long as a few years to complete. It is advisable to contact your local probate court or a lawyer for more information about the specific process in your state or terrirtory. We have listed some general guidance regarding the probate process below.
The informal probate process may be selected for estates meeting the requirements of their county and state. The informal process may be completed faster and involves less court participation.
STEPS TO THE PROBATE PROCESS
Determine if the decedent has a will or a specific plan for how the estate will be settled.
List all assets and review all financial records. Complete a search for unknown accounts and property.
Upon review of the decedent’s estate, determine probate qualifications and procedures.
Select a Personal Representative (PR): this must be done legally through the court. Often, the executor of the estate will act as the PR. However, a PR must be selected if there is no will in place.
Contact the local Supreme court and complete and file the necessary documentation to apply for a Grant of Probate or Notice of Administration.
The PR’s job duties will vary from state to state, but the PR will be responsible for completing the probate process. The PR’s duties may include:
Collecting all assets known and unknown for inventory.
Cancelling daily routines such as leases, utilities, prescriptions, employment, and postal mail.
Liquidating the assets of the estate
Pay any and all outstanding debts and claims. Investigating and validating all claims made by heirs, creditors, or other parties.
Determining the shares of the estate due to heirs as indicated by will or by state regulations if necessary.
Continuing to pay any ongoing bills such as mortgages and utility bills.
Continuing to check in with the court and file any necessary paperwork.
Filing tax returns and paying income and estate taxes.
Upon receiving permission from the court, distributing estate to heirs.
Again, it is important to recognize that the probate process is complex and lengthy. It may be important to hire an attorney to ensure all probate procedures are properly and successfully completed. This list of the steps of the probate process is intended for general guidance.
Family members are not personally liable for debts incurred by the decedent.