What Is Probate?

Probate is a legal process whereby a court oversees the distribution of assets left by a deceased person’s Will, or if there is no Will, according to intestate laws. Assets are anything a person owns with value, such as real and personal property and cash, for instance.

Do I Have To File A Probate?

Probate is not always required. If a person dies leaving very few assets, such as personal belongings or household goods, these items can be distributed among the rightful beneficiaries without the supervision of the court. Or, if the deceased owned everything in co-ownership, for instance all bank accounts were joint with rights of survivorship (with a spouse or children), and then those assets pass automatically to the surviving co-owner.

Probate is generally necessary to: Clear title to land, stocks and bonds, or large bank or savings and loan accounts that were held in the name of the deceased person only; Collect debts owed to the deceased person; Settle disputes between beneficiaries or heirs.

What Happens During The Probate Process?

If there is a Will, then the Will is “proved” and delivered to the court. If there is no Will, then someone, usually a spouse or child, files a Petition for intestate (no Will) probate.

A personal representative is selected. A personal representative is someone who handles the deceased person’s affairs. A will generally names a personal representative who, if willing to serve and otherwise qualified, will be approved by the court. If a person dies without a will, after filing a petition for probate, the court will select the personal representative, usually the spouse, an adult child or another close relative.

A notice to creditors is published in a local newspaper notifying creditors that they have four months to bring any claim against the estate for debts the deceased person owes them.

The heirs and any people named in a will are notified of the probate proceeding.

Assets are identified and an inventory is prepared and filed with the court.

All proven debts of the deceased are paid.

Tax returns are prepared.

An accounting is prepared showing all money paid out from the estate and all money collected by the estate.

After court approval of the account and payment of all unpaid probate expenses, the deceased person’s assets are distributed to heirs and beneficiaries.