Probate is the legal process of transferring property following the estate planner’s death. During the probate process, which is a court-supervised process, the estate planner’s property is collected, debts are paid and property is distributed. Because the probate process can be complex, costly and time consuming, it is helpful for both estate planners and their family to be familiar with what it involves.
Steps during the probate process
There are several steps to the probate process including:
- Collecting all probate property of the deceased estate planner;
- Paying all of the debts, claims and taxes owed by the estate;
- Collecting all the rights to income and dividends of the estate;
- Settling any disputes against the estate; and
- Distributing and transferring remaining property to the heirs.
The executor for the estate named by the estate planner in their will typically conducts this process along with the probate court. In circumstances when there is not a will or an executor has not been named, the probate court will name a personal representative to administer the estate. Typically, the court will name the deceased estate planner’s closest relative, such as a spouse, or the individual who will inherit the bulk of the estate planner’s estate.
Estate planning tools are available, such as a trust, that may help estate planners and their families avoid the probate process entirely. It can save time and money in some instances not to go through the process. In some situations, such as when a will is contested, it will need to go through the probate process to determine the validity of the will. It is helpful for families to understand the probate process so they can determine what options are available to them and what is in their best interests.