Probate administration is the legal process that involves settling an estate after a person dies. When someone dies, their financial affairs must be settled, and their assets must be transferred to their rightful heirs. The process can be complex and usually involves going through the court system.
If the deceased person leaves a will, the probate administration will be conducted according to the terms of the will. If there is no will, the probate administration will be conducted according to the laws of intestate succession, which dictate how property is distributed when someone dies without a will.
The estate’s executor is responsible for overseeing the probate administration process. The executor is typically named in the will, but the court will appoint an administrator if there is no will. If in case there is no will, the executor or administrator must open a probate case in the appropriate court. They will be entirely responsible for ensuring that all assets are correctly identified and valued and that all debts and taxes are paid. The remaining assets are then distributed to all the beneficiaries. Probate administration typically includes four steps:
Filing the Probate Petition
The most important step in the probate process is filing a petition with the court. The petition must be filed by the executor or administrator of the estate. The court will then appoint an administrator if there is no will.
The petition requests the court to appoint the executor or administrator and to begin probate proceedings. It also informs creditors that they have a limited period to file any claims against the estate. Once the petition is filed, the administrator has the authority to take control of the decedent’s property and begin settling their affairs.
Identifying and Inventorying the Deceased Person’s Assets
The appointed administrator will inventory all of the decedent’s assets and debts. This includes real estate, personal property, bank accounts, investment accounts, and any other assets the decedent owned at death. It also includes debts the decedent owed, such as credit cards, mortgages, car loans, and other outstanding obligations.
After all of the assets and debts have been identified, the executor or administrator will notify creditors of the death and provide them with information on how to file a claim against the estate if they are owed money. Creditors have a limited time period to file their claims— usually between 60 and 90 days, which is why it’s crucial to notify them immediately after death.
After all, claims have been filed, and it’s time for the executor or administrator to pay valid claims against the estate. This includes funeral expenses, taxes, and other debts incurred by the decedent before death. Once all debts have been paid, any remaining assets can be distributed to beneficiaries according to the will or state law (if there isn’t a will).
Distributing the Remaining Assets to the Beneficiaries
So, whether or not there is a will, the assets will be distributed according to its terms or state law. If in case there is a will, assets will be distributed according to its provisions. If there is no will—or if the will doesn’t cover all of the decedent’s assets—then state law dictates how assets are distributed. Under most state laws, spouses and children are first in line for inheritance, followed by other family members. For example, if someone dies without a spouse or children, their parents would inherit their estate. If they don’t have parents, then their siblings would inherit.
In some cases, distant relatives may inherit if no closer relatives. If someone dies without surviving family members, their cousins inherit under most state laws. Executors and administrators should follow state law when distributing assets. Otherwise, they can be held personally liable for closing the estate.
What is Closing the Estate?
The court would issue an order closing the estate and appointing the executor or administrator, as the case may be. The order will direct the executor or administrator to pay all debts and taxes, file all required final reports with the court, and distribute the remaining assets of the estate as per the terms of the will or as per the laws of intestate succession(if there is no will)
After the executor or administrator has taken all required actions and paid all debts and taxes, they will file a final report with the court and request that the court issue an order closing the estate. Once the court issues the order, the estate is officially closed, and the executor or administrator is discharged from their duties.
Why Should You Hire a Probate Attorney?
Crafting an estate plan is complex, and the stakes are high. While it’s possible to find do-it-yourself kits and online resources for creating a will, trust, powers of attorney, and other estate planning documents, it’s generally not a good idea to go alone. A professional estate planning attorney can provide invaluable guidance and ensure that your documents are legally valid and meet your specific needs.
When creating your end-of-life intentions, there are several significant advantages to working with a professional.
- An attorney can help you understand the tax implications of different decisions, advise you on how to protect your assets, and craft customized solutions that take into account your unique circumstances.
- A professional can spot potential problems you may not be aware of and help you avoid making costly mistakes.
- If there are any disputes among heirs or beneficiaries, an attorney can help to resolve them.
Expert lawyers explain that an estate planning professional can help with drafting the necessary paperwork, making sure everything goes according to plan, so there aren’t any surprises down future generations’ paths.
The bottom Line
While dealing with a loved one’s probate estate can be complex and emotional, it doesn’t have to be difficult if you know what steps to take. By following these steps—filing, identifying assets and debts, paying debts, and distributing assets —you can ensure that everything is handled appropriately and according to either state law or your loved one’s wishes. Probate administration can be time-consuming and expensive, but it is typically the best way to make sure that a person’s final wishes are carried out and that the estate is properly settled.