Because many estate planners want to avoid probate, it is important to be familiar with what probate is and the probate process. Though you have likely heard the term on many occasions, you may wonder what probate involves.
Probate is the process, supervised by the probate court, that handles the assets and liabilities of a person who has passed away. The probate process can involve any of a number of different aspects of estate administration including proving the validity of a will if it exists; selecting who will administer the estate such as an executor or representative; totaling assets in and out of the estate; paying any applicable estate taxes and other outstanding debts; identifying heirs and relatives; and distributing remaining assets to heirs according to a will or intestacy statute.
The probate process generally begins when a representative of the person who passed away files a petition accompanied by a death certificate in the probate court and generally ends when the court formally closes the estate. Some of the downsides of the probate process include time and cost. There is commonly a waiting period associated with the probate process and fees are sometimes charged by a number of parties involved in distributing the estate. Those fees commonly come out of the estate.
In some states, the probate process is required so it is important, as always, to know the laws in your state and understand how probate and the probate process may apply to you. Understanding estate planning options and the legal tools and resources available is always recommended for estate planners.