When a loved one dies, their estate must go through probate. This is the legal process whereby their will, if they have one, is officially filed with the courts, transfer of ownership occurs to the heirs, and bills are finalized. It is a fairly straightforward process, but it is best handled by an attorney experienced in probate services, especially if the deceased died intestate, or without a will, or if a business is a part of the estate. Here is what to expect from the process.
The Will Is Validated
State law governs the process of validating a will. It is not uncommon in large estates where the stakes are high for a family member to contest the validity of a will. For example, an heir may claim the will isn't valid as they believe it to have been made under duress or when they were no longer of a sound mind. In most cases, however, the will is accepted as is.
An Administrator Is Chosen
If someone has died with a will, they will have normally chosen who they would like to oversee their final financial affairs and the settlement of their estate. This person is called the executor. If they failed to name an executor, or the will is outdated and the chosen person is no longer available, or they don't have a last will and testament at all, someone else must be chosen as the estate administrator. The candidates are, in order of legal preference, a surviving spouse, followed by adult children, followed by adult grandchildren, followed by surviving parent(s), followed by siblings, followed by nieces and nephews.
If there are no family members who are able or willing to serve as an administrator, creditors or another qualified person may be chosen by the probate court to handle the responsibility. The chosen person will be recompensed for their service from the estate.
Notice Is Given To Creditors
State law varies on how notification must be made and the timeframe they have to make a claim against the estate. An advertisement is often placed in the newspaper notifying the public. During this time, an inventory of the estate is also made. This allows the executor or administrator to appraise the value of the estate.
Debts Are Paid
All debts must be examined for their validity. Those that are found valid will be paid, as will any remaining funeral or medical expenses. Some of the decedent's assets may need to be liquidated, or sold, to pay the bills.
Transfer Of Ownership Occurs
Once all debts are paid in full to the satisfaction of the court, the heirs may receive their inheritance. This may include transferring the deed to a home or other real estate property, the titles to vehicles, and the disbursement of monies.