Dealing with the probate process when a loved one passes away can be stressful and exhausting as there are many steps involved with settling an estate. Knowing what to do can be challenging, especially if you have never experienced probate. You might wonder who starts the probate process and what your role is when a loved one passes.
Probate can be relatively stress-free if your loved one plans for their passing while alive. However, if there is no valid will or estate planning in place, probate can become a lengthy and complicated process.
Morgan & Morgan’s probate attorneys can take the burden off your shoulders and handle the probate process from beginning to end. We can also deal with complex issues, such as inheritance disputes and litigation against the estate. Contact us now to find out more in a free case review.
How the Probate Process Begins
Probate is usually necessary for settling an estate and involves various steps before the assets can be distributed among the deceased’s legal heirs. In most cases, it is impossible to avoid probate when someone dies.
The “testator,” the person who made the will, usually names an executor in the will. This individual generally has the responsibility to start the probate process. Probate begins in earnest when the executor files the will and petition in the local probate court.
The Steps in the Probate Process
The probate process can vary depending on which state you live in. However, in general, it includes the following steps:
1.Filing the Petition With the Probate Court
The first step in the probate process is filing a petition with the probate court and appointing an executor to act on behalf of the decedent’s estate. The heirs and beneficiaries of the estate must receive notice, allowing them to challenge the petition and will.
What if There Is No Legal Will?
A will typically names the executor of the estate. However, without a will, the court has to appoint an administrator and give notice of administration to the legal heirs and beneficiaries. The role of the administrator is similar to that of the executor.
2.Inventorying the Estate
The personal representative has to determine the total worth of the deceased’s estate. This step includes inventorying and valuing all assets of the deceased, which can include:
- Real estate
- Bank accounts
- Mutual funds
- Life insurance
- Furniture, jewelry, and other countable assets
The executor must also identify debts and liabilities, such as mortgages, bills, and loans. Once the personal representative has completed the inventory, they must file their findings with the court.
3. Notifying the Deceased’s Creditors
The personal representative or administrator must try to notify all estate creditors. Depending on the state, a Notice to Creditors must be published in the newspaper local to the decedent’s residence. Creditors typically have three months from the notice’s date to file any claims. It is worth noting that the personal representative must compile and file a list of all creditors with the court.
4. Paying Valid Estate Debts
Three months after notifying the creditors, the executor can move forward with closing the estate by paying all known and valid debts. Any claims received after this date are generally not considered legitimate. Liabilities of the estate can include:
- Utility bills
- Medical bills
- Mortgages and loans
- Credit card balances
- Funeral and burial expenses
Debts are generally paid from the cash available in the estate account. However, if the debts exceed the available funds, the executor must sell off assets to pay the remaining bills and debts.
5. Final Estate Accounting and Taxes
In addition to settling the estate debts, the executor is also responsible for filing the final tax return and paying taxes. Once the personal representative has assessed all assets, taxes, and liabilities, they must submit the final accounting records, which should include:
- The estate’s assets
- Payments made to creditors
- Probate fees
- Attorney’s fees
- The personal representative’s fee
6. Distribution of Assets Among Heirs and Beneficiaries
Once the final accounting records are submitted and approved, the estate’s remaining assets are distributed to the beneficiaries and heirs according to the decedent’s last will. The applicable state laws decide how the assets are distributed if no valid will exists.
7. Closing the Estate
After distributing the assets, the personal representative must provide the final accounting to the court and close the estate. Closing the estate concludes the official probate process.
Probate can be deeply unpopular as the process is often complex, lengthy, and frustrating. Sometimes, it can take a year or longer before the heirs receive their inheritance and can move on with their lives. However, having a knowledgeable probate attorney from Morgan & Morgan by your side can make the process as efficient and stress-free as possible.