What is Probate?
Probate is the process by which your last Will is determined to be your final statement and confirms the appointment of the person or institution you have named to administer your estate. The term probate is also used in the larger sense of probating your estate. In this sense, probate means the process by which assets are gathered and applied to pay debts, taxes and expenses of administration, and distributed to those designated as beneficiaries in your Will.
How is a Will probated?
The following is a simplified outline of the general probate process:
- The original Will is filed with the Court.
- The Executor named in the Will or Administrator is appointed. Executors and Administrators are commonly referred to as Personal Representatives.
- The Personal Representative files a Petition for Probate of the Estate.
- For approximately nine months from the date of the Petition for Probate, creditors of the Estate can file claims against the Estate. This would include any prior creditors or judgment holders, debts resulting from last illness, funeral expenses, taxing authorities, etc.
- During this time period, the Personal Representative has to identify and collect assets of the Estate. To do this, the Personal Representative finds all bank and security accounts, debts owed to the Decedent, property owned by the Decedent, etc. The Personal Representative also has to maintain the assets in good condition. This consists of maintaining insurance coverage, collecting rent, protecting assets from theft or damage, etc. The Personal Representative may also liquidate assets such as cars, real estate, etc. during this time.
- When the nine-month claims period has expired, and when all assets have been collected, real property sold, and assuming no problems have presented themselves such as the Will being contested, the Personal Representative then files a petition with the probate court to allow a distribution of all remaining assets to the beneficiaries/heirs, and files a detailed accounting with the Court setting forth all monies received, monies disbursed, how assets were invested, and the proposed plan for distribution.
- If the Court approves the plan, the Personal Representative then divides the assets as instructed in the Will, or as required by statute if no Will exists.
- The minimum amount of time that the probate process can be completed is approximately nine months, but it normally takes longer. Reasons for delays can include Will contests, property cannot be sold, claimants not being notified in the original nine-month claim period, etc.