Many people are concerned about having to go through the probate process. When assets are titled solely in the name of a decedent without a valid beneficiary designation, a probate is often required. Planning ahead is great as there are many options for avoiding probate. But, if you find you are facing a probate, know that it may take a year a longer to complete every task that needs to be done. The Personal Representative (also called an executor) plays a critical role in the probate process and should learn every aspect from validating the will to distributing assets.
Asset inventory and paying debts
Here are some of the important tasks that occur during probate process:
- Verifying the will: The court needs to assure the validity of the well. This includes the existence of a will, signed by the testator – the creator – by two witnesses. If there is no valid will, then the estate is called “intestate” and will be distributed according to statute.
- Appointing a Personal Representative (also called an executor): In most cases, the person executing the will has named the Personal Representative and ideally contingent Personal Representatives. Sometimes, the named Personal Representative and even the contingent Personal Representatives have predeceased. Then another person must petition the Court to be appointed. If there is no will, then the statute provides who has priority to serve in this important role.
- Completing an asset inventory: Careful review of the decedent’s assets is essential. This responsibility lies with the Personal Representative, who may seek direction from an attorney. We often suggest clients complete a change of address to receive and review the mail, review tax records, review important papers, review any lists of assets, and search unclaimed property. The list may include real estate, bank accounts, personal belongings. After determining the assets in the estate, it is necessary to establish the value of each asset.
- Paying outstanding taxes and bills: A notice to creditors is published to provide notice to creditors who must then file a claim. Known creditors and Medicaid Estate Recovery must be mailed notice. If a claim is not filed within the notice period, it usually does not need to be paid. State, federal and property taxes owed by the estate must be properly settled.
- Settling disputes among heirs: This represents another difficult task for the Personal Representative. Fighting over assets and arguing over the validity of the will are not uncommon.
- Distributing remaining assets: After the taxes and bills are properly handled, then a proper pleading is submitted to the court to approve the administration and distribution.
A necessary and worthwhile endeavor
Please understand that the probate process has many steps that need to be followed. Along with that, it also is time-consuming and may test the patience of anyone. Upon its conclusion, you achieved the ultimate goal: estate settlement.