Most Americans do not understand probate.
Isn’t there anyone who knows what probate is all about?!!
This question is reminiscent of Charlie Brown’s desperate cry of frustration in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” albeit in a different context.
You have likely heard of probate.
Perhaps it has been in the context of a loved one complaining about dealing with the aftermath of the death of a loved one.
Maybe you have seen it mentioned in a previous blog.
It is likely you still have many questions.
According to a recent Pauls Valley Democrat article titled “Probate still gets lots of questions,” you are not alone.
Although probate is essentially the legal procedure established to protect the estate of a person after his or her death, it can be quite confusing.
If you have created a last will and testament, the probate court will ensure the instructions you provided are followed.
The probate courts also seek to preempt any attempts by greedy heirs to claim what is not theirs and ensure that all debts, taxes, and expenses are settled before distribution to heirs.
The formal proceeding provides documentation of all assets subject to probate and their distribution.
How does one begin probate proceedings?
Typically, a petition is filed with the local court in the county where the decedent had lived prior to dying.
What information is needed when filing this petition?
The required materials include the original copy of the death certificate, the residence of the decedent, the last will and testament if it exists, the name of the personal representative (also known as the executor), the name of all possible heirs, and an inventory of all assets subject to probate.
After these have been filed, there will be a hearing.
Formal notice will be given to known heirs and to the general public.
If a family member was not named in the last will and testament, he or she may then make a claim against the estate.
The size of the estate is public record, so anyone can find out its value and each asset passing through probate.
Often scammers find victims through probate notices.
Although the probate process was designed to alleviate stress and protect the estate of an individual who has died, it can often have the opposite effect.
A fully-funded revocable living (RLT) trust can prove beneficial for those who want to keep their affairs from the public eye.
Assets placed into the RLT will be distributed according to the guidelines within the trust document.
Rather than a court overseeing the asset distribution, a trustee will hold this responsibility.
If you have assets with beneficiary designations, you can avoid probate by naming an individual beneficiary rather than your estate as the beneficiary.
These often include retirement accounts and life insurance policies.
Although the purpose of probate is to settle estates, some families may require alternative transfer methods.
Reference: Pauls Valley Democrat (June 3, 2021) “Probate still gets lots of questions”