When boiled down to the essentials, all probate cases are accomplished in four basic steps.
Even in this day of internet results, many people are unsure of how to open a probate case or the steps taken through the probate process. This can be particularly difficult to objectively consider if the deceased is a close relative or loved one.
Step One: Filing and notice.
Step Two: Post appointment notice.
Step 3: Payment of estate funeral costs, debts, and taxes.
Step 4: Legal transfer of assets once probate case is resolved.
As discussed in our article on probate timeline, probate cases take an average of six months to a year to resolve, depending on varying factors such as size of the estate, contest of will or disbursement of estate based on laws of intestacy (where the deceased did not leave a will) and the parties who have a claim to the estate (from individuals to debt collectors).
Let’s take a more in-depth look at each of these four steps.
Filing and Notice. The probate process begins with the filing of a petition with a probate court to either admit to the will of the deceased and appoint an executor or if there is no will, appoint an administrator of the estate. Notice of the petition will then go out to all the deceased person’s heirs and potential beneficiaries. If any of the aforementioned object to the petition, they will have an opportunity to do so with the probate court.
Post appointment notice. Once an executor or administrator has been appointed, notice must go out to all creditors which have claims against the estate. Any creditors who wish to make a claim against the estate are required to do so during a limited period of time, which varies according to each state’s laws. Real property, stocks, bonds, business interests, and other assets are inventoried in order to determine the value of the estate. Sometimes claimants to the estate will want their own appraisals of the estate’s value and are allowed to bring in their own independent representatives to confirm or contest the value of each of the estate’s assets.
Payment of estate funeral costs, debts and taxes. To put it simply; all final bills owed by the deceased are paid from the estate, including taxes. Any remaining value, assets, cash, etc. will be what is left for the executor or administrator to disburse among any and all claimants the court has deemed legitimate beneficiaries, including the petitioner who opened the probate case.
Legal transfer of assets once the case is resolved. Upon adjudication of the probate matter, all assets are legally transferred to the beneficiaries who are named in the will, or those who have been granted a claim based on their petition. In the case where assets are real property (such as real estate, or vehicles, etc.) the administrator may draw up deeds transferring ownership of the assets to their respectively designated beneficiaries.
While errors can occur and missteps can be taken by petitioners, the most common error involved in probate cases is when there is no will left by the deceased. The best way to avoid having your assets and estate disputed in court it to make sure you have a standing will, and change it according to the changes that occur in your life.
If you are considering opening a probate case, make sure you consider all the ramifications involved, and whether you are prepared to endure months of dispute.
Make sure you keep a healthy perspective, and consider the consequences if you involve yourself in a probate dispute.
Many families who begin as a tight knit group often find themselves broken apart for the sake of an opportunity for a few extra dollars.