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Understanding Probate

Probate is the process of legally proving a person’s will after their death. A person has a will in place to give directions regarding assets and to distribute property to beneficiaries, among other things. When someone dies, the law generally requires you to prove the decedent’s will in order to properly and legally distribute assets. If you die without a will, the state laws guide how your assets are divided. This is called dying intestate. Therefore, it is in your best interest to put a will in place to ensure that your wishes are met and that your loved ones are cared for as you desire.

The Probate Process

The person designated as your executor or estate administrator is in charge of beginning the probate process. The executor is responsible for handling your assets and debts, and all other aspects of your estate following your death. There is no legal requirement to hire an attorney to assist with probate; however, this can be extremely beneficial. Probate can sometimes be a lengthy and complex process and it can be challenging for the administrator, especially if he or she is unfamiliar with the procedures. If you fail to handle the process properly, you could end up with problems. It is helpful to seek guidance from a probate attorney.

Steps of Probate

It is essential to understand the steps of the probate process.

File Petition

The first step to get the probate process started is to file a petition. The court will formally appoint the executor in accordance with the will. If there is no will, the court appoints an administrator to oversee the process.

Provide Notice to Heirs

The executor or administrator typically must provide notice of the court hearing for the petition to beneficiaries and heirs. The notice generally is published in the local newspaper. Those who are heirs have the opportunity to attend the hearing to voice any objections.

Provide Notice to Creditors

The executor must provide written notice to any creditors of the deceased. The written notice gives creditors time to file a claim to the estate under the law. A creditor could be a bank, credit card, or any other person or entity that is owed money from the decedent. Creditors have a limited time to file a claim.

Take Inventory

The administrator must inventory the assets of the estate and assign value to them. Assets include all property, real or otherwise. Some examples of assets are cash, stocks, houses, and any valuables. In some instances, you will need the services of an appraiser to provide the best valuation of property in the estate.

Pay Expenses

The executor needs to determine the expenses that the estate owes and pay them from the assets of the estate. The executor must pay the creditors that are determined legitimate. In addition, the executor must also pay any other expenses on behalf of the estate. For instance, the funeral expenses might have to be paid from the estate. If there are insufficient cash funds to pay expenses, the executor may need to sell estate property in order to make payment.

Distribute Assets

Once the bills are paid and the estate is finalized, the executor will make payment or distribute the assets to heirs and beneficiaries. The executor petitions the court to allow for distribution in accordance with the will.

Probate is not always a straightforward process, especially if someone contests the will. In order to protect the rights of the decedent and to ensure the proper laws are followed, it is helpful to seek guidance from a probate attorney as soon as possible. To learn more about probate or for an initial consultation, contact our legal team at Moen Sheehan Meyer, Ltd online or by phone at (608) 784-8310.

Published June 25, 2021
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