Probate 101: The ultimate guide

The funeral provider Dignity has warned that profits will fall short of forecasts this year because fewer people are dying.

Losing a loved one is a painful experience that requires time to grieve. During this difficult time, the last thing you want to deal with is a complicated legal and financial process.

However, that’s what happens when families go through the probate process. Experts from Probate Advance will explain everything you need to know about it. If you want to learn more about probate, keep on reading!

What is probate?

Probate is the legal process of administering a person’s estate after their death. In case there’s a will, probate will involve proving that it’s legally valid. Then, your instructions will be executed, and applicable taxes and fees will be paid.

However, when there’s no will, the probate court will rely on your state’s intestate law and determine how to distribute the estate. This may cause some problems and take a long time overall. That’s why having a written will in advance is so important – for you and your loved ones. Not only does your will specify who your beneficiaries are and what they will inherit, but it also sorts out important legal matters your family may have difficulty with after you pass away.

Keep in mind that probate is a matter of public record. This means that someone who wants to look through your legal records can view all the details of this process.

Types of probate

Depending on the state, there are multiple types of probate which can go by different names. The type of probate impacts the time it takes to be completed. The two main types go as follows:

Informal probate, also known as small estate probate, is designed for low-value estates. Each state determines the thresholds for estate values. In this case, the distribution of assets can go quickly due to a small number of creditors.

Formal probate is more complicated and takes more time due to the involvement of the court and executor. In some states, it’s divided into 2 subtypes:

Unsupervised probate is when the executor carries out all the tasks and provides a report at the end of the probate process. As for the court, it doesn’t oversee all the steps.

Supervised probate means that the court is involved in every step of the process. Without its approval, the executor is unable to make any decisions. In this case, the whole process will take the most amount of time.

The process

Although there maybe be some state differences, the general probate process goes as follows:

Open probate

First, you need to file a petition with the probate court to open the process and validate the will. Until that happens, you’re not allowed to distribute or discard any property.

Send notices

After the probate court approves the will, it appoints an executor or administrator, who will then notify creditors and interested parties – beneficiaries named in the will, or, in case there’s no will, relatives who would stand to inherit the estate.

Take inventory

In this step, the executor determines the total value of all assets on the date of death, proving to the probate court and the heirs that the estate has been distributed properly. The heirs and probate judge should receive copies of the inventory.

Distribute assets

Now it’s time to go through the estate and carry out instructions in the will. Moreover, administering the estate can include submitting policy claims, paying debts and taxes, as well as closing retirement and other accounts. In the case of major disagreements, the court rules to facilitate the process and enable executors to fulfill their duties.

Close the estate

At this point, you must have paid the court and executor’s fees, and all the assets have been either distributed, sold, or discarded. Then you need to file a petition to dissolve the estate and conclude the probate process.

What impacts the probate’s timeline?

There are some aspects that directly impact on how long the probate process will take. These include:

The value of the estate – basically, the smaller the estate, the shorter the process. If the estate’s value is below a certain threshold, it may go through a faster and less involved small estate probate process. In the case of large estates, the process can sometimes take months or even years.

Litigation – it occurs when someone contests the will or accuses the executor of wrongdoing. Until all legal issues are resolved, the estate cannot be settled.

Heirs and beneficiaries – whenever someone unnamed in the will comes up to dispute it, the court has to determine if their claim is legitimate. In case it is valid, and the person has the right to the estate, it has to be distributed according to the court’s ruling. Moreover, the heirs can dispute the way the estate is divided. To complete the process, they must reach a settlement, which can prolong the whole ordeal by months.

The bottom line

It’s never easy to think about matters that will take place after you and your loved ones pass away. However, if you’re considering probate, thinking ahead and preparing your will in advance is your best bet. Feel free to discuss your options with a professional if you have any questions or doubts.

Julia Łysakowska