You may have heard of “probate” in reference to the settlement of an estate.
Probate is a legal process whereby the estate of someone who has passed away is reviewed in the courts and then disbursed according to state laws. Probate can take place either when the deceased person has a Will or has no Will (or a Will can’t be found.)
The probate process involves several steps, including:
- Ensuring that the Will is valid
- Appointing an administrator or an executor
- Taking an inventory of the estate
- Arranging for payment of any claims against the deceased’s estate
- Payment of estate taxes
- Distributing the assets that remain
Many people think that the probate process is a tangled web. While it can be a lengthy process, it does offer a legal framework with certain protective benefits such as control over the claims of creditors. On the other hand, if the deceased did not have a Will, the legal statutes of the person’s state of residence will dictate asset distribution, creditor claims and other matters.
One of the first steps in Probate is the appointment of an executor, which is done by the Probate judge. The executor is typically be a close relative. One of that person’s first duties is to assist in submitting an inventory of the estate, and the value of that inventory.
Some inventory, such as real estate, will require an appraisal. The executor may make value assessments on their own for lesser-value items and personal items of the deceased.
Liabilities must also be assessed, and the executor must advise creditors of the person’s death, and ask creditors to submit a claim to the Probate court.
So, you see that the role of the executor in the Probate process is important. The role can also consume a fair bit of the executor’s time.
If Probate does happen upon death, it helps greatly to get advice from a qualified Probate attorney, who can assist in getting the Probate process off to the right start. This can save time, ensure that everything is done right, and sometimes actually save costs in the long run.
While Probate does offer guidance and some legal protections, Probate can actually be avoided if the right Estate Plan is in place before death.
This is where an attorney with Estate Planning experience comes in handy. Planning for the inevitable – before death – is a wise move. Talking to a law firm which offers Estate Planning can be a very smart step since an Estate Plan can help to avoid Probate, reduce taxes, and offer many other benefits.
Importantly, a properly-drafted Estate Plan can also ensure that very specific wishes of the estate’s owner can be fulfilled in a legal, orderly fashion, outside of the courts.