Probate Administration: What You Need to Know

Probate Administration: What You Need to Know

After you’ve lost a loved one, you likely want to focus on grieving with friends and family. However, a time consuming legal and financial process often follows the death of a family member. Unfortunately, many families must go through the probate process shortly after losing someone close to them.

In order to close an estate, you must go through the state’s probate court system. In this case, you need a lawyer who focuses on probate laws, which is different from an estate planning attorney. Probate lawyers have an understanding of estate administration, which occurs after death. Estate planning lawyers, on the other hand, are skilled at putting a plan in place before death.

Understanding the probate process can help you move through it relatively smoothly, without a great deal of frustration or surprises. When a family member passes away, there is a good chance that he or she will have assets and some debts that need to be taken care of. The assets and liabilities of someone who has died is usually referred to as their “estate.” Ideally, this person will have a last will and testament, spelling out who should inherit what. Without a will, however, the probate court will rely on the state’s laws to determine how to distribute the estate. 

First, if there is a will, a petition must be filed with the court in order to begin the process of distributing assets. The person in charge of carrying out the instructions in the will is called the “executor.” Essentially, the court must determine whether the will is legally valid. 

Once this step has been completed and the court approves the will, the executor can begin notifying parties and creditors who may be mentioned or have an interest in the will. If the will is uncontested and all parties agree that the will is valid, the probate court simply reviews and signs paperwork. If, on the other hand, someone finds the will problematic, the judge can become significantly more involved in the process. This can occur when there are many beneficiaries listed who do not agree on how the estate should be handled.

The third step in the process is for the executor to take inventory and determine the value of the estate. This includes everything from checking the balance of bank accounts to getting items professionally appraised. The executor must then send copies of the inventory to the probate court for the judge to review, as well as to all beneficiaries.

It is only once all of these steps have been completed that assets can finally be distributed. This step, however, can take time. Depending on what the assets are, the distribution of assets can take several months. The executor is also responsible for closing accounts and selling assets to ensure that everything is distributed to the correct party.

One all of these steps have been completed, the estate can be closed and the process is completed.