Probate, Estate & Trust Administration
Probate is simply the legal process of transferring ownership of real and personal property after someone dies. Probate requires the involvement—and in some instances the supervision—of the court. Probate may involve determining the validity of a Will, the identification of the heirs, and the administering of the estate—gathering of assets, paying of debts and taxes, and the distributing to the heirs. Probate is conducted by the personal representative (sometimes referred to as the executor).
What should I know about the probate process?
A personal representative is required to prepare and file an inventory and a list of claims after the personal representative is approved by the court. The timeframe for this important task is set by statute. This inventory should detail all of the assets subject to probate (i.e., that did not pass outside of probate by operation of law or otherwise). The property must be valued and even appraised as necessary. The inventory provides both potential beneficiaries and creditors of the estate an idea of the estate’s assets and claims.
As an heir you may be entitled to inherit from a deceased person, but the inheritance is subject to the estate’s administration. The personal representative must settle the debts and claims of the deceased person and the estate before he or she can make any distribution of the assets.
As noted above, the personal representative must also keep the administration process moving along by settling all of the decedent’s debts. The personal representative may choose to provide notice to creditors through publishing in a local newspaper. If a creditor fails to make a claim within the time frame allowed by statute, the creditor may be barred from collecting the debt. The personal representative has a duty to ensure that only valid claims are paid and should investigate each claim before paying it from the estate.
The personal representative must keep the heirs informed of the progress he or she is making in administering the estate, including providing copies of the Will and other documents filed with the court. The personal representative can be removed if he or she fails to administer the estate in complete and thoughtful manner.
Having a reliable guide to help navigate the probate process can ensure that the estate is properly administered and avoid the landmines that could cost the estate and heirs a lot of money.