The administration of your estate through the court system after your death is what is known as “probate.” This process is intended to transfer your estate in an organized and supervised way. Though many people believe otherwise, regardless of whether you have a will, your estate will be subject to probate, with few exceptions.
If you have a valid will in place, the will determines how your estate is transferred during the probate process. If you do not have a will, or if your will only deals with a portion of your estate, your assets must still go through the probate process. In the case of having no will, the laws in the state of Arkansas determine who will inherit your property.
Probate in Fayetteville: The process explained
The probate process primarily involves two steps: paying your debts and transferring your assets to either heirs or beneficiaries. The probate court in Fayetteville will control the process, which varies from state to state. Nevertheless, there are a few basic steps that are common to all states:
- Swearing in a personal representative
- Notifying creditors, heirs or beneficiaries, and the public
- Creating an inventory of the property
- Distributing the estate
If your will designates a personal representative to be in charge of your estate, the court will formally appoint that person, if he or she is able to serve. If, however, you do not have a will, your will does not name a personal representative, or if the person you chose is unable to serve, the court will make that determination.
Personal Representative of an Estate
The person appointed as the personal representative of your estate will be given the authority to handle the affairs of your estate. The court will give your representative a certified document, called “Letters of Administration” or “Letters Testamentary,” which authorizes that person to act on behalf of your estate, as required. The personal representative may be required to take an oath of office before being officially appointed. The first step your personal representative takes in initiating the probate process is filing the “Petition for Probate.” If you have a will, the probate court will issue an order admitting your will to the estate.
Notifying creditors and the public
Another necessary step your personal representative will take is notifying potential creditors of your death, by publishing a notice in the local newspaper. This allows anyone who may claim an interest in your estate (including creditors) to file a claim against your estate with the probate court. These claims must be filed within a certain time period specified by the probate court.
Inventorying your property
Another task for your personal representative is conducting an inventory of the real and personal property of your estate. This must be done so that the value of your estate can be determined, as well as to ensure that all of your property is accounted for. If, by chance, you do not have enough assets to pay your debts and the distributions to your beneficiaries, then your estate may be subject to “abatement.” This means that your beneficiaries may receive less than you intended, or they may not receive anything at all.
Distributing the estate
The final step in the probate process is distributing your estate. Creditors with valid claims will be paid in a certain order, based on the laws of your state. Normally, estate administration costs, funeral expenses, taxes and debts are the first to be paid. The remainder of your estate is then distributed to your heirs and any beneficiaries named in your will. If you died without a will, the intestate succession laws of your state will determine how your property is distributed to your heirs.
To learn more about probate in Fayetteville, Arkansas as well as the responsibilities of a personal representative, download our free Guide to Being a Personal Representative in Arkansas.