What Exactly is the Probate Process?

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Probate is often misunderstood.

What do you think when you hear the word “probate”?

Do you think of inconvenient bureaucracy?

Do you imagine family drama?

According to a recent The Million Acres article titled “Probate Explained: What Is Probate, and How Does It Work?,” probate often has a bad reputation.

Probate is an involved process.
The Probate process may require assistance.

In reality, this legal process serves a useful purpose.

Only when a person dies can the probate process for their estate can begin.

Their last will and testament is filed with the court.

When it has been accepted by the court, the executor can begin following the wishes of the decedent regarding the estate.

First, the executor will be receive “letters testamentary” (kind of like “diplomatic papers from the court) to pay debts owed by the estate.

After debts have been paid, the executor can distribute assets to the heirs.

Depending on the unique circumstances, this can take a lot of time.

In most cases, an executor utilizes the services of a probate attorney to assist with the necessary paperwork, notification of creditors, tax filings, and asset distributions.

Some actions, like notifying creditors, need to take place within an allotted time.

Other aspects of this process can be quite lengthy.

How so?

Certain states will take longer to probate a will than others.

If the last will is contested, the proceedings can come to a standstill.

The lack of a “legal will” can increase the challenges of probate significantly.

The court will divide assets according to state law.

In some cases, finding and notifying heirs can be an arduous process—especially if the beneficiary lives out-of-state or out-of-country.

Are there ways to simplify the process?

Yes.

Creating a thorough and detailed last will can make this a smooth process and cut down on certain costs.

There are a number of expenses associated with this process.

These include creditor notice fees, court filing fees, appraisal fees, tax preparation and filing fees, and attorney fees.

Because these are paid from the estate, your heirs may end up with less than you intended.

For this reason, it is important to work with an experienced estate planning attorney.

He or she will either help you set up an efficient, legal last will or help you avoid probate through the creation of a fully-funded revocable living trust.

Ultimately, the option chosen should align with your specific needs and goals.

Reference: Million Acres (Jan. 17, 2020) “Probate Explained: What Is Probate, and How Does It Work?”