Neither the probate court nor the probate process itself need be frightening.
It is normal for people to have fears.
Fear can be healthy and protective.
It encourages people to be cautious and careful.
One common fear is becoming entangled with the probate court and its process.
According to a recent Investopedia article titled “What is Probate Court?,” probate is not meant to be evil.
The probate court is where every last will and testament of a deceased individual is given life – after being examined, approved, and processed.
The probate court provides oversight for the appointed executor when paying debts and eventually distributing estate assets.
When no last will exists, the probate court appoints an administrator and distributes estate assets to the heirs according to state laws.
Guardians are also part of the purview of probate when there are any orphaned minor children.
A valid and well-constructed last will and testament makes probate less scary.
Working with an experienced estate planning attorney in your state of residence is vital to making the probate process as smooth as possible.
The laws and names of probate vary somewhat by state.
It is also know as surrogate’s court, orphan’s court, or chancery court.
Regardless, the probate process begins when the last will is filed with a petition for probate and a copy of the death certificate.
To close the probate of an estate, the executor must complete all required tasks and provide a full and final settlement (i.e., an accounting).
This final settlement must be approved by the court.
Assets held only in the name of the decedent must pass through probate.
Some assets are not distributed through the probate court.
These include assets owned by a trust, life insurance policies with beneficiary designations, pension plan distributions, retirement accounts with beneficiary designations, real estate with a beneficiary deed, and transfer on death securities.
Some assets depend on certain limits or laws of the state.
These include wages, commissions, and salaries owed to the decedent.
They also include vehicles and household items intended for the immediate family.
If avoiding probate court is important to you, common alternative options may include funded revocable living trusts and beneficiary designations.
It is also possible to decrease the estate through lifetime gifting.
Work with an experienced estate planning attorney to create a plan to meet your needs.
Reference: Investopedia (Sep. 21, 2022) “What is Probate Court?”