Probate has lately gotten a bad reputation and may have some trying to avoid it like the plague. Probate is not the villain some make it out to be and most estate beneficiaries are not able to avoid it entirely. To find out more about probate and how to get through it in a few simple steps, read on.
Locate, Read, and File the Will in Probate Court
Start the process by finding the last will and testament of the deceased. If you don't already know, check desk drawers, home safes, filing cabinets, and safe deposit boxes at the bank. The reading of the will can take place anywhere but it often happens at the attorney's office, which is handy since there are always questions about the will and its contents. Once the family sees the will, the probate or estate lawyer will file it in the local county probate court and there it will reside for several months. In some places, a notice is placed in the paper letting creditors know about the death and asking anyone who is owed money from the deceased to come forward.
Next, the executor (or personal representative) is named and approved by the probate court. This person will be in charge of certain tasks while the will is probated. One of the executor's first duties is to perform an estate inventory. That means making a list of real estate, vehicles, furniture, animals, bank accounts, and more. In some instances, a professional appraiser may be used to value real estate, jewelry, artwork, and more.
Dealing With Debts
Probate isn't just about assets. It actually came about as a way of dealing with those who were creditors of the estate and who wanted to be paid regardless of the death. All debts, including those pertaining to the burial and funeral, are dealt with using a priority system. The estate lawyer will advise the executor about what to pay and when to pay it. In general, tax debts must be paid first. Some credit card bills, on the other hand, never have to be paid.
Distributing the Assets
Lastly, the will is approved by the probate court and the beneficiaries are free to take ownership of their bequests. The property is made available to those mentioned in the will with some of it transferred via a deed or title and some it just being picked up. Additionally, the executor makes a final accounting of the financial activities during probate to assure that everything was done correctly.
The more comprehensive the estate plan, the easier it is for the survivors. Speak to an estate-planning lawyer, like Abom & Kutulakis LLP, about your will and other estate instruments today.