What is Probate?
Probate is a legal process of administering a person’s estate after their death. The process ensures that the will is valid and that there is an executor appointed to handle all of the decisions that revolve around the estate. Specific laws vary from state to state about the probate system. Here are some general steps to understand how to probate a will:
1. Petition for Probate of Will
When your loved one dies, a death certificate is filed with the state. The will of the deceased will need to be authenticated. This is when the probate process begins. The probate court’s role is to verify that the will is legally valid. A will typically indicates an appointed executor or personal representative. If the individual dies without a will, the court will select a personal representative to settle the estate.
2. File Public Notice of the Death
Most states require a death notice in the local newspaper notifying creditors, heirs, and others of the death. This process allows anyone who may have a claim against the estate to come forward. Generally, beneficiaries named in the will, relatives, and any creditors would also receive notice of the loss of your loved one.
3. Determine the Value of the Estate
The appraisal process can be simple, like checking a bank account balance. Or, it can be more complex, like visiting a professional appraiser to determine the value of the estate. Possible assets that make up the estate may include things like property, saving and checking accounts, business ownership, antiques, vehicles, investment accounts, etc. The estate may also have liabilities (things that are owed) such as outstanding loans or credit card debt.
4. Pay Bills and Taxes
An executor must pay federal, state, and local income taxes before any distribution of assets. The executor then must pay funeral expenses and all other creditor claims.
5. Distribute Assets
Executors are bound by the terms of the will and must distribute assets as the will directs. Depending on the state and the complexities of the estate, the probate process can take anywhere from a few weeks to several years to be settled. After all creditors are paid in full, remaining assets can be distributed to the heirs and beneficiaries, including items as furnishings, jewelry, and other valuables. It is valuable to have an estate attorney or financial advisor navigate complex estate disputes.
6. Close the Estate
The executor must file a final accounting that shows how estate assets were managed. This document serves as a formal notice that all property has been distributed and all other estate obligations have been taken care of. If the judge approves the accounting, the executor is then dismissed and the estate is closed.