For some families, estate planning takes priority to build lifetime wealth and to protect their assets against lawsuits, but for others procrastination is the order of the day until the inevitable happens and it’s too late to take action. When a person passes away, all his or her possessions and assets that were accumulated may be legally required to go through a process known as probate. This is a court-supervised legal process that involves gathering together all the information on the deceased person’s debts, assets, and taxes. Then a ruling will be made to pay the deceased’s outstanding bills and distribute the remaining assets and property to any living relatives or named heirs. The process can sometimes be long and frustrating; however, most of the time it is simple with limited court supervision.
The first step to beginning a probate case is filing the required paperwork with the local court. Usually a family member or an attorney will file a petition which states that the decedent has passed away and there was or was not a will. In the next step, the court will name a personal executor to handle the affairs of the estate. During this beginning stage of the probate process, the petitioner or executor will be required to present a death certificate, pay the appropriate filing fee, and gather information regarding the heirs of the estate.
For a probate judge to decide whether or not to grant the request to petition the estate, the judge must read over the petition and supporting papers before holding an official hearing. It is mandatory that a notice be sent to all interested parties, including creditors. At the hearing, there will be an opportunity for people to formally object to the appointment of the proposed representative for the estate. This is basically a formal legal procedure, and many probate attorneys do not require their client’s attendance unless absolutely necessasry.
After the court has designated someone to be the estate’s representative, it will then issue documents that give that person the authority to act on behalf of the deceased’s estate. He or she will have the authority to sell assets, pay debts, and toward the end of the probate process will be in charge of distributing any leftover money, assets, and possessions to the heirs of record. However, the court will require a detailed accounting of all distributions to ensure that there has not been any abuse or unfairness.
Once it has been confirmed that the creditors have all been paid, the tax returns have been filed, and any disputes have been settled, the appointed estate representative will then distribute any leftover assets to the rightful heirs. This is done by formally petitioning the court to allow the designated representative to distribute the money. After a full accounting of the asset distribution has been disclosed to the court, it will be time to close the estate. The representative is now relieved from his/her duties as the executor, and the probate process will now be officially closed.