When your loved one has passed away, you’re overwhelmed with sadness, grief, and other negative emotions. During this period, you’re not interested in handling the financial aspect of their death. However, suppose your deceased family member has a will to carry out and an estate to administer. In that case, you might be put into a situation where your family needs to handle their financial affairs, although you’re still grieving. This is where the probate process comes into play.
If the family decides to deal with this judicial proceeding for the first time, here’s a family guide to the probate process to familiarize yourself with:
What Is Probate?
Essentially, probate refers to a judicial process in which someone’s estate is administered after their death, with or without a will. It’s handled by the court, which has jurisdiction over where the decedent (dead person) resided.
On the other hand, the probate court will ensure that the decedent’s wishes are followed accordingly. They’re in charge of overseeing the whole probate procedure, and examining and interpreting all documents submitted. The probate court will also be responsible for resolving the disputes when it comes to contests.
But, because of the conflict involved, the probate can take a few months or years, depending on the situation. As such, you may need a lawyer to help you go through the proceeding.
What Are Some Definitions Used In Probate Matters?
Like other legal matters, probate can be complicated and confusing to understand, especially for family members. Because of this, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with the several definitions used in probate matters. Doing so can help you and your family go through the process more successfully. Some legal definitions can include:
- Executor: This is the person tasked to carry out the decedent’s wishes laid down in the will. In most cases, executors are family members, but they can also be third-persons, such as a dedicated attorney.
- Administration: This involves the process of managing and settling an estate by a person given with court authority.
- Codicil: This document contains any amendment or modification to an existing will.
- Letters Of Administration: This document is issued by the court, granting the designated administrator the authority to manage the estate’s affairs without a will.
- Letters Testamentary: This document is issued by the court authorizing the appointed executor to carry out the will’s provisions.
What Is The Step-By-Step Probate Process?
Unless you’re a legal professional, navigating the probate process can be challenging. Without proper knowledge about this legal matter, you may be unable to follow your dead loved one’s express wishes. If the family decides to apply for probate, the following steps should be kept in mind:
- File The Probate Petition
The first step in the probate process is filing the petition in court. At this stage, the court will examine the petition, the decedent’s death certificate, and the will to formally open the probate proceeding. The court will also determine the executor of the dead person’s estate.
If the decedent left a will and named an executor, the court will approve the designation by issuing the letter testamentary. If the decedent didn’t appoint an executor or the person named is unable to fulfill their role, the court will designate someone else. In this case, the executor can be one of the heirs or beneficiaries, or a third person, like an accountant or an attorney.
- Send Notices
After filing a probate petition and the will has been proven valid, the next step is to send a notice to the heirs and beneficiaries. The purpose of the notice is to inform them that a petition has been filed and the court already acquires jurisdiction over the said judicial process.
Moreover, the executor will also need to send notices to the known creditors to notify them about the probate. Generally, the process of sending notices would depend on the state. Some states will require the executor to publish the notice in a newspaper of record where the decedent resided, while others only require sending letters to the creditors.
- Take Inventory
Once the notices have been sent, the executor will inventory all the tangible and tangible assets included in the estate. Its purpose is to assess the estate’s total value to determine the amount of estate taxes and claims of the creditors.
To do the inventory successfully, the executor will account for all the assets and ensure nothing is lost or stolen. Although selling isn’t encouraged at this stage, the legal representative may need to sell some of the properties to pay the creditors and settle all the liabilities.
- Distribute The Assets And Close The Probate
After completing the tasks, the final step is the final distribution of all assets and closing the probate process. At this point, the executor will distribute the remainder of the estate to the heirs and beneficiaries as part of their inheritance. Once you’re done with the property transfer, a petition to dissolve the estate should be filed by the executor with the court to close the probate proceedings formally.
Dealing with the probate process can be tricky if you and your family know where and how to start. Therefore, if you’re the executor tasked to administer the estate, keep this guide in mind, so you’ll learn how probate works. The more you know what to do during this proceeding, the better you can handle it from start to finish.