Things can be confusing after a loved one passes away. Many people never give the probate process a second thought until they are facing it themselves. While probate laws and rules vary from place to place, the process shares some common steps for almost everyone. Take a look at this step-by-step quick and simple guide to help you get through probate after a death.
File the Will and Open Probate
The probate lawyer for the estate will read the will, explain it to all concerned, then file it with the court. Until the probate court approves the will, nothing should be done with the property unless it's an emergency. For example, a water leak should be fixed immediately. No property should be removed yet, however, no matter what the will says. The will is valid if the signature is true and if it is the only legal will. The process to approve the will can take several weeks.
Notices are Sent
Part of the will approval process involves appointing an executor (or personal representative). Anyone who has an interest in the estate should be contacted but the way that happens can vary. Interested parties include not only beneficiaries but those owed money by the estate. In some cases, a notice is placed in the legal notices section of the local newspaper for that purpose. It should be mentioned that those close to the deceased, even if not mentioned in the will, are also sent notices of the probate action.
The Estate is Inventoried
One of probate's primary duties is to establish the value of the estate. The estate consists of real estate, jewelry, vehicles, collectibles, investment accounts, art, precious metals, and more. In some cases, the executor will use a professional appraiser. The larger the estate, the more complex this task may be. For example, if the deceased had an investment account, the value of the stocks, bonds, and more on a given day must be noted. The probate judge along with all heirs is provided with a copy of the estate inventory.
Distribute the Estate
Once an accounting of the estate is made, it gets distributed. First, certain high priority creditors (like the IRS) are paid, and some assets may be sold. A home sale can take many months to go through, for example. The estate won't be closed until all assets and debts are dealt with.
The Estate is Closed
Once all of the above is completed, the probate court officially ends the process with a final petition. Speak to a probate lawyer to find out about the probate process in greater detail.