To put things lightly, going through the probate process isn’t the most pleasant thing in life. After all, a long and complicated legal process is the last thing you want to deal with when grieving your loved one’s death.
Unfortunately, taking things to court is inevitable if a deceased person didn’t leave a will or set up a living trust – the court has to determine who should inherit the assets left behind by the deceased.
That process is called probate, and it should be in your interest to know as much about it as possible, especially if you’re the heir. Gaining necessary knowledge is crucial to ensure the probate process is quick, and more importantly, done a hundred percent correctly.
Below, you’ll find all the information on what happens at a probate court hearing.
Basic Information on Probate
Before we get to the guide, there are certain things and terms we should clarify. Here is a quick rundown of basic information on probate:
- The process usually takes a few months; however, it can linger even up to several years.
- If there’s a will, it has to go through the authentication process.
- An executor or personal representative is a person in charge of carrying out the will’s instructions.
- Specific probate laws may depend on the state a deceased person lived in.
Probate Process Chronological Steps
Now that it’s clearer what probate actually is and what it is for, let’s find out more about steps you should go through in court. A quick heads up, your experience may differ depending on the state law.
Usually, though, the process goes through the following steps.
The first step you need to take is, of course, opening the probate. To do that, you or other potential creditors have to file the petition to the court. It should include a copy of the death certificate and the will.
Once the court reviews the petition and decides to open the probate, the process officially starts. During that step, the court will also determine who should be the executor.
Before the executor can carry on with their duties, they have to get a probate bond that protects them from any claims against them for deceitful activity. It ensures they do their work on behalf of the state and won’t benefit from the probate.
It also entitles heirs to receive a payment if the executor makes any mistake that costs money to the estate. Once the court approves the executor, they receive documents called Letters of Administration or Letters Testamentary.
They entitle the person to pay debts, sell assets, and carry other administrative tasks.
Identifying and Notifying Beneficiaries
Once the executor is appointed, their first job is to notify other creditors and involved parties. However, since there might be unknown creditors, it is the executor’s duty to publish a notice of death in a local newspaper.
After creditors get notified, they have a certain timeframe to respond and submit claims against the estate. The exact time may vary depending on the state, though it usually takes between three to four months.
While the executor is waiting for other beneficiaries to respond to their notice, the court will take inventory of the deceased’s assets. It usually takes a few days, although it may last several months if the estate is bigger.
It’s a vital step, as the executor has to track down every asset and get proof of ownership. They also need to make sure nothing gets lost, sold, or stolen during the process.
Paying Debts and Taxes
If any creditor’s claim is valid, they have to receive the payment they claimed for. The executor should use estate funds to pay all the decedent’s debts, including final bills.
The same goes for estate taxes. The appointed executor has to file personal or income tax returns and pay any amounts owed if necessary. If the returns aren’t approved, the estate won’t be distributed.
Distributing the Estate
Once the probate court goes through every step above, it’s time to distribute the estate. Once again, it’s the executor’s responsibility to distribute all the assets to the heirs. Depending on the type of asset, this part may take some time (e.g., non-liquid assets).
As you can see, the probate process is not the most pleasant thing. Unfortunately, going through it is usually necessary when someone dies.
The important thing to remember is that various states have different laws, so it’s best to learn as much as possible before entering the court.
Keep in mind that while the guides like ours can help you understand the probate process’s mechanism, you shouldn’t treat them as legal advice. For that, you should seek help from a reliable probate attorney, who will be able to guide you through the probate and ensure there won’t be any troubles along the way.