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Don't Be Intimidated: Probate Step-By-Step

There's a lot of talk out there about avoiding probate, but most all estates must go through this legal process. Probate is an important process, and while people can use alternate methods to deal with some estate property outside of probate, it is still usually a requirement. Knowing what to expect could help you deal with this task at a time when dealing with everything might be difficult. Read on for the steps of probate.

Following the will or not

The last will and testament guides probate, but even those who die without one might need to have their estates probated. Probate doesn't just deal with items of property like a home and bank accounts, but with the debts of the estate as well. Even if someone died, intestate debts must be paid somehow.

Authenticating the will

The first step after a will and the probate paperwork is filed is for the probate judge to view the will and determine its validity. Efforts will be made to ascertain whether or not there are other wills and what the most recent iteration of that will should be declared "last."

Appointment of the executor

Also called a personal representative, the probate judge may appoint a suitable person (such as a surviving family member) if one has not been specified in the will. This person will be in charge of several estate-related tasks during the several-month-long probate process.

Inventory of assets

The probate court will require that the executor provide them with a list of all estate property and a valuation of that property. A real estate appraiser may be required for that task. The location and listing of all property are submitted to the court.

Identification of creditors

A notice of the death with an invitation for all unlisted creditors to come forward takes place soon after the death, and there is a limited amount of time given for these creditors to place a claim on the estate. All known creditors will then be listed.

Paying bills of the estate

The debts of the deceased must be settled before probate is final. The executor may use estate assets to pay those bills. Any disputed bills will need to be settled by the creditor petitioning the court. For example, if an associate comes forward and claims that a personal loan was provided to the deceased, they would need to show some proof of that debt before the judge will order it be paid.

Final tax return

The final return might be more complicated than others depending on how your state handles estate and inheritance taxes. All taxes must be paid before probate is complete.

Distribution of assets

All rightful heirs will be provided with their bequests.

Speak to an estate attorney to learn more.