One of the most mysterious processes is probate. While it is a familiar term to many, it is not necessarily understood.
When someone dies, whether there is a will or not, most states require the will go through probate court. While the process can take time, it does not have to intimidate those left to deal with it. It may help to understand the three fundamental elements of probate, so you know how to deal with it when the time arises.
1. The probate petition
When someone dies with a will or estate plan, a personal representative or executor takes over executing the terms of the deceased. The estate documents name the person chosen by the decedent. The first step in probate is filing the petition informing the court of an individual’s death. The petition must:
- Ask the court to recognize you as the personal representative.
- Indicate if there is an estate plan and file the will.
- Include the death certificate.
Once approved, the probate case is open and the process continues.
The personal representative must notify the people named in the will that probate has begun. Along with this, the representative must send notices to all creditors that the estate is going through probate. This allows them time to gather a claim for debts. There is a time restriction for any claims made against the estate for payment of outstanding debts. If any debtors make valid claims through the court, the personal representative must investigate.
3. Paying out the estate
The personal representative should get a proper accounting of the estate together while waiting for claims against the estate. Once the appropriate times expire, the rep must pay off debts, liquidating assets as warranted. Only after the representative pays valid debts may the remaining funds go to intended heirs. Probate ends when the personal representative informs the court that the money and property from the estate is gone and debts are settled.
If you find yourself named as the personal representative of an estate, you may want to check with an attorney. A little bit of guidance during this process can go a long way.