Probate is the legal process that takes place after someone dies which includes a judicial decision about whether or not a will is valid and the settling of an estate. The estate is a combination of all of the assets owned at the time of death, including real estate, stocks, bonds, retirement accounts, life insurance, automobiles, etc. The settling of the estate is the process where assets are gathered and first applied toward any debts, taxes and expenses of the administration of the estate, and then distributed to the beneficiaries designated in the will. The Personal Representative or the Executor named in the will is in charge of this process.
The probate process is started by filing a probate petition in the county where the person who died, called the decedent, was living at the time of their death. At that time, the executor must identify, collect, inventory and appraise all property and assets of the decedent subject to probate.
Next, creditors are notified of the decedent’s death and provided a specific deadline to file any claims they may have against the estate. With the court’s approval, valid debts, taxes and estate expenses are paid from the estate assets.
Once all of the bills have been paid, any remaining assets are dispersed according to the instructions in the decedent’s will.
No matter how big or small an estate is, the probate process can be a scary experience for someone who has never gone through it. An experienced estate planning attorney can quickly and efficiently guide you through the process.