Whether you are working on the details of your own estate plan or you have been named as a personal representative for the estate of a loved one, understanding the function of the probate process is essential. How familiar are you with the legal proceedings that ultimately dictate how an estate is to be dispersed?
How the probate process works
Generally speaking, the probate process is a set of requirements which guide the transfer of an estate with the ultimate goals of satisfying debts and allocating assets to beneficiaries. The matter is overseen by a probate court, whose first objective is to determine that the will filed with the court is genuine.
Once the validity of the will is established, the court appoints a personal representative of the estate. Public notification of the individual's death is then required, thereby providing opportunity for anyone who believes they have an interest in the estate to file formal claim or notification with the court.
The personal representative compiles a comprehensive list of the individual's assets in order for the court to determine the total value of the estate. Once debts, taxes and other expenses are paid, remaining funds are dispersed to those specified in the individual's will.
Contrary to popular belief, having a will does not mean that an estate will not need to be probated. The benefit of a will lies in the fact that the individual's intentions for estate transfer are known. If a will does not exist, pertinent laws determine the final allocation of assets.
Probate Estate Assets
Certain properties are not subject to probate, such as life insurance policy payouts with specific beneficiaries. Properties you can expect to see contained in a probate estate include:
- Assets owned solely by the individual
- The individual's share of an asset that is owned along with at least one other person
- Assets with no specific beneficiary
- Assets payable to the estate
- Payments owed to the individual that were received after the individual's death
- Personal items and/or household items
Although establishing a living trust can eliminate the need for probate proceedings, they are also subject to their own costs and downfalls.
Rely on professionals for help
The prospect of becoming involved in a court proceeding can be an intimidating and confusing experience, but the probate process does not need to be arduous. Whether you are planning your own estate or acting as a personal representative for someone else's probate, your attorney can help to ensure the estate's beneficiaries receive the assets as intended.