Probate can seldom be avoided entirely, in spite of numerous claims to the contrary. Not all estate assets are appropriate for trusts and transfer-on-death designations, and as long as a will exists, it will need to go through probate. Probate is a legal process that helps ensure that the estate's assets are distributed according the deceased's wishes and that all legal obligations of the estate are satisfied. It is to your benefit to have a good understanding of the probate process, so read on for the four simple steps of probate.
1. The Will is Filed with Probate Court
The official beginning of probate is signified with the filing of the will in the decedent's county probate office, where it will be a public document. The named executor, or personal representative, will work together with the estate attorney to ensure that the will is probated and the wishes of the deceased are carried out. A notice will be published in a local newspaper for a specified period of time alerting any interested creditors to come forward with claims on the estate for money owed.
2. Inventory of the Estate
While the will is being probated, a process that could take several months, the executor must attend to the estate by taking an inventory of assets and debts. Typical assets include the family home and any other real estate, bank and investment accounts, pets, vehicles, and the personal possessions of the deceased. The value of any real estate will likely require the services of a professional appraiser.
Paying taxes is a primary responsibility for the executor, and they are authorized to sell assets if necessary to pay income tax obligations. Caution must be exercised when paying bills of the estate, since some should paid during probate (like taxes) and some must be paid only after probate is complete. Your estate attorney should be consulted for exact information on what to pay and when to pay it.
3. Disbursement of the Estate
Once probate is complete, the assets of the estate must be transferred to the beneficiaries. The executor must submit a final accounting for all financial transactions during probate and all creditors must now have come forward or lost a chance to do so.
4. Legal Transfers of Property
This final step in the process involves the legal transfer of property to the beneficiaries. The new owners of any property only need show a copy of the death certificate and the probated will to gain ownership of any bequeathed property. Commonly, real estate is transferred with a quit claim deed and vehicles are transferred via title changes.
Be sure to consult with an estate attorney for more information about how the probate system works. To consult a probate lawyer, contact a law firm such as Wilson Deege Despotovich Riemenschneider & Rittgers.