What Probate Is

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Probate is the term used in reference to the process in which a probate court oversees the settling of an estate according to the terms of a will. Probate done through the probate court is an expensive and lengthy process. It can take anywhere from a few months to a few years, depending on the level of complication within an estate. Legal fees, court fees, and taxes also accumulate rapidly during this process. There are ways to save your heirs the hassle and money by avoiding probate court, but first let’s look at what goes into the probate process through the probate court.
It should also be noted that informal probate exists as well, however it is only for small estates in which court supervision is not necessary. This only happens in the case of an estate that is under the state’s limit, has no uncertainties, legal disputes or complex administrative requirements.

Now let’s take a look at the process of administering the estate of a deceased person under the formal supervision of a probate court. Generally, the first step the probate court will take is to appoint a representative. If there is a valid will, the court will appoint the person named in the will (called an Executor) to carry out the distributions described in the will. If no will exists or the court determines a will invalid, the court will appoint the closest relative to serve as “Administrator” and then the court will apply state inheritance laws to determine where the assets will be distributed. The probate court will hold hearings for any creditors or other parties that feel the deceased is in indebted to them and make decisions regarding the validity of their claim. The probate court will then move forward in the distribution of estate assets, including payment of all state and federal taxes. If an Executor was named in the will, the court will oversee him/her in the distribution of assets. One of the last things a probate court will do is oversee the guardians’ use of assets placed in a trust for children or dependants.

One can see how this can quickly become a lengthy and expensive undertaking. Determining validity, paying taxes, distributing assets, overseeing representatives, handling disputes and hearing claims can take an inordinate amount of time. As well as cost, for the court’s time, legal fees and any taxes or claims taken out. All this can take a toll on your heir’s inheritance and state of mind. A strong estate plan is your best option in making things as hassle free and inexpensive for your heirs in their time of grieving.

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