When a loved one passes away, dealing with all the details and issues can be overwhelming. Probate is the legal means of ensuring that a deceased person's estate is processed and handled in a fair manner, but the term and the process is filled with trepidation and confusion. The process is actually relatively simple and straightforward in most cases, unless you are dealing with large estate or a contested will. Read on to learn more about this process in four simple steps.
1. Locate the will, read it and file it. Wills are often placed in safe deposit boxes at a bank or in a safe, secure location at the deceased's home. The estate attorney who helped create the will should also have a copy, and you will need to meet with them at some point anyway. The attorney will ensure that the will is read to any pertinent parties, and that it is filed in the local county probate court in a timely manner. You should take special note of the person appointed in the will to be the personal representative (also known as the executor). This person will be working alongside the attorney to ensure that the probate process goes smoothly. If no person is named to take on this duty, the probate courts will assign someone (often a spouse or adult child).
2. Perform an inventory of the estate. The personal representative is usually tasked with taking a complete inventory of all of the assets of the deceased. This includes homes, cars, land, artwork, jewelry, home furnishings, bank accounts, investment accounts, pets and more. In some cases, a professional appraiser must be hired to value any real estate (or other property). This inventory, along with the value of the property, must be filed with the probate court before probate can be finalized.
3. Handle the finances of the estate during probate. Bills of the estate must be paid during probate, although certain categories of bills should wait for probate to be complete. In most cases, taxes should be filed and paid during probate, if any taxes exist. The money to pay these bills should primarily come from any liquid assets of the estate (such as bank accounts), but personal representatives have the power to sell assets to pay bills if necessary.
4. Comply with the wishes of the deceased. Once probate is final, the personal representative may distribute any property listed on the will to the named beneficiaries. Death certificates will help show proof of ownership for vehicles and real estate transfers, and other miscellaneous property can be made available to any other beneficiaries.
Talk with an estate planning law firm like Seiler & Parker PC for more information.