After a person passes on, they leave behind their legacy in the form of belongings, treasures, property, accounts, and more. Probate is the legal process of managing and distributing these items based on wishes in the will, or based on state intestacy laws. If your loved one passed away and now is having his or her estate go through probate, we highly encourage you to talk with a lawyer. Many clients come to us for advice throughout the steps of probate, to help make sure their loved one’s wishes and assets are being carried out with respect.
One of the most common questions people have when they meet in our office for a consultation, is: What are the steps to probate? Here, we have aimed to summarize these steps in a clear and brief explanation.
The First Step: Filing a Petition and Sending Notifications
A petition must be sent to the local court, in order for probate to start. During a hearing, the will is verified and then a representative of the estate is appointed. The representative is either going to be the executor who was chosen based on the will, or an administrator who was assigned by the court if no will was created. Beneficiaries and heirs are to be notified of this court hearing as well, so they can be present and object to the petition if they desire to do so.
It is standard practice for the hearing to also be published in a newspaper, as a way to inform unknown creditors and others who may want to come forward and submit a claim to the estate.
The Second Step: Taking Inventory of the Estate
Once the court grants permission for the executor/administrator to move forward and the will is verified, everything the decedent owned is to be found and inventoried. This list of assets is to be submitted to the court upon completion. This step can be the most tedious task, especially if the decedent did not leave behind an organized file for stocks, bonds, life insurance accounts, 401K, properties, etc.
If you were assigned the role of executor and are having trouble finding your loved one’s assets, we suggest reaching out to a lawyer for advice.
The Third Step: Paying Taxes and Debts, then Distribution
The executor/administrator may have to sell some of the decedent’s property or other assets as a way to satisfy overdue taxes and/or debts. Any claims that were filed on behalf of creditors or other entities are evaluated by the executor/administrator for reliability. If the claims submitted are legitimate, these parties are paid from the estate directly. Once everything else has been accomplished, the executor/administrator gets approval from the court to distribute assets from the estate to rightful heirs or beneficiaries as listed in the will.
Those who want help navigating the stressful and potentially complex world of probate, can meet with a probate attorney Allentown, PA trusts for counsel. Many lawyers offer a free initial consultation for new clients and can help you work through any struggles you may be experiencing during probate.
Thank you to our friends and contributors at Klenk Law for their knowledge about estate planning and the probate process.