Understanding Probate

What is Probate?

Probate is the legal process by which a court distributes the assets of a deceased person according to the deceased’s will and/or state laws. The court determines the validity of the will and resolves all claims from creditors and competing claims from heirs.

Steps of Probate

  1. An executor is appointed to administer the estate. If there is a will, the will typically names who is to be the executor. If there is no will or no executor named in the will, the executor is appointed by the court.
  2. The court determines the validity of the will according to state law. It is important to follow state requirements for signatures, witnesses, and notaries to ensure your will is valid.
  3. The assets of the deceased are identified and inventoried.
  4. The value of the assets is determined.
  5. The deceased’s debts and taxes are paid.
  6. The remaining assets are distributed according to the deceased’s will or, if there is no will, the assets are distributed according to state law.

Why Do You Want Your Estate to Avoid Probate?

  1. It is expensive. Up to ten percent of your estate can be lost to probate costs alone. Costs may include court fees, legal fees to the executor of the estate, appraisals, legal fees to resolve disputes, and accounting services.
  2. It is a lengthy process. While it is possible for an estate to be probated in six to twelve months, it is not uncommon for the probate process to extend to one to three years before the estate is settled.
  3. It is an invasion of privacy. Your entire estate will become a matter of public record during the probate process. Anyone can go to the courthouse and find out what assets are in the estate, their value, and to whom the assets are to be distributed. There are many dishonest people who research the probate records to find ways to take the assets of the deceased. Others seek to take advantage of an heir by having them invest in some scheme or any number of cons.

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