The probate process is used to validate a person's Last Will and Testament; pay outstanding debts; and distribute estate assets to beneficiaries. When a person dies intestate (without a Will), the probate process can be prolonged while heirs are located and notified of the decedent's death.
The duration of probate process depends upon the complexity of the estate and behavior of heirs and beneficiaries. Heirs are direct lineage relatives, while beneficiaries can be anyone. Heirs are automatically entitled to assets unless the decedent specifically disinherits entitled relatives within their Will. If heirs contest the Will, the probate process can be prolonged for months or even years.
If a person dies without a Will, everything they own is transferred to probate. In most cases, heirs will need to retain the services of a probate attorney. The attorney must file an original copy of the decedent's death certificate and obtain a case number.
An estate executor must be appointed. Generally, this is a direct lineage relative such as mother, father, sibling or adult child. Estate administrators must be 18 years of age and never convicted of a felony offense. The designated probate executor should be organized, responsible, and qualified to handle financial affairs and distribution of assets.
If the decedent executed a Will, the designated administrator is named within the Will. In most cases, the Administrator is aware of their duties and has been informed of the decedent's final wishes and location of important documents.
Once probate is initiated, the Administrator must attend a court hearing to be formally appointed. If the estate administrator was appointed in the Will, the judge will validate the Will and enter it into probate. If the decedent died intestate the judge will determine if the appointed administrator is qualified to oversee the estate.
The administrator must adhere to probate process timelines. Duties include collecting, inventorying, and obtaining appraisal values on estate assets. Probate assets can include real estate and financial holdings, personal belongings, automobiles, household furnishings, jewelry and collectibles. An inventory list must be provided to the judge when closing the estate.
Outstanding debts must be paid through the estate. Typically, an estate checking account is established to handle estate-related payments. The probate attorney can negotiate with creditors if the estate does not possess adequate funds to pay outstanding debts. Estate executors are never personally responsible for estate related debts or expenses.
Once expenses and debts are settled, the administrator can distribute property according to directives outlined in the Will. If there is no will, the judge provides distribution directives. A final tax return must be filed within nine months from the date of death.
Documentation of how the estate was handled is provided to the probate judge. Once the judge signs off on the case the probate process ends and the administrator is released from any further duty.
Published on February 13, 2009 at 06:18 PM | Comments: 1