Step-by-Step Guide to the Probate Process

Probate is the legal process through which the court oversees the estate of a deceased person to make sure the debts are paid and the estate is properly distributed to the heirs. Many people think that probate applies to you only if you have a will. Not so! Your estate will be probated whether or not you have a will.

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Can I handle probate without a lawyer?

Keep in mind that you have several options for using a probate lawyer. You don’t necessarily have to turn the whole process over to an attorney. It may be enough to consult, get advice, or have an attorney review documents you have prepared. If you are unsure about the probate procedure or about the estate, you need to get legal advice, and you may decide to just let the lawyer do it.

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Settling Smaller Estates: A Simpler Procedure

The only time the probate process may be quick, is when the gross value of the estate is relatively small. This shorter probate process is called by different names in different states; every state’s definition is different, and some are complicated.

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Are there simpler probate procedures for smaller estates?

That depends on the laws of your state. The laws on probate’the procedures you have to go through to transfer property belonging to a decedent to his or her heirs or Beneficiaries’are different in every state. Many states have summary procedures for what they consider small estates, but the concept of what is small ranges from an estate worth $5,000 to one worth $100,000.

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Who is responsible for handling the probate process?

When there is a will, the deceased will usually have named or nominated a personal representative and possibly alternate personal representatives. The personal representative named in a will is not obligated to serve and may choose to resign at any time. If the named personal representative declines to serve, or resigns after serving, the alternate named in the will typically is then appointed by the probate court.

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How much does probate cost and how long does it take?

The time it takes to probate an estate depends on how complicated the estate is, including whether or not the deceased left things in order. If the deceased left piles of papers to be filed and a paper bag full of receipts, it may take time to sort out initial issues, such as gathering assets, filing tax returns, and paying debts.

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Where is probate handled?

Probate of an estate is usually handled by a court located in the same county and state where the deceased lived at the time of his or her death. If the county is too small to have its own probate court, there may be a court in a neighboring county that will have jurisdiction or jurisdiction may be given to another court, like the county court.

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What if the decedent owned land in more than one state?

If there is no will, probate is usually required in each state where the real property is situated, in addition to the home state. Each state has its own unique pattern for distributing property when there is no will (intestate succession). All personal property and the real property located in the home state would be distributed under that state’s laws of intestate succession.

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How to Submit a Will for Probate

There are specific tasks that an executor must do to successfully complete the probate process of a will: collect the assets of the deceased, notify creditors, insurance companies, and public agencies, submit papers to the courthouse and set up a probate court date, file the deceased person’s final tax return, and distribute the assets.

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What goes on in the probate of an uncontested will?

A hearing on the probate petition is typically scheduled several weeks to months after the matter is filed. It may be necessary to bring the persons who witnessed the deceased’s signature on the will to the hearing to testify. Whether this will be necessary depends on several factors: on the laws of the state, sometimes on who the named beneficiaries are, how long before the death the will was signed, whether the will was prepared by an attorney, who supervised the signing (execution) of the will, and/or whether the will was executed with certain affidavits.

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