Understanding the Probate Process

The probate process can seem overwhelming, especially after losing a loved one. At Busch, Reed, Jones & Leeper, P.C., we want you to know that it doesn’t have to be so complicated. We are here to walk you through the whole process, and we can start by giving you a brief overview.

Step 1: The Will

Probate applies whether or not your loved one left a valid will. Without a will, your loved one’s estate becomes an “intestate estate,” and the court will appoint an executor and pass the decedent’s property to their closest relatives.

If your loved one left a will, the court will have to authenticate it. Once you file a request for authentication and all other required paperwork, you can begin the probate process.

Step 2: The Executor

Many people name their executor or personal representative in their will. This is the person who oversees the probate process and settles the estate. Sometimes, an attorney serves as an executor, and other times, the responsibility falls with a friend or family member.

When the will does not name an executor, the court appoints one.

Step 3: Insurance

Bond is an insurance policy that protects the estate in the event of an executor error. Some states require personal representatives to post bond before acting for the estate.

Step 4: Assets

Once the executor is appointed and insured, they begin collecting the decedent’s assets. The executor will keep a list of all assets, care for assets that require upkeep (like family homes), and take possession of certain assets for safekeeping.

The executor must also have all the assets appraised, which means they must recruit someone to determine what the assets were worth on the date of the decedent’s death.

Some courts appoint appraisers, and others allow the executor to choose a professional for the job.

Step 5: Debts

Before the estate can be distributed, the executor must take care of all outstanding debts. Usually, the executor will publish a notice in the local newspaper so unknown creditors can come forward with any claims. Then, the executor pays all valid claims and any bills the decedent accrued before passing away, including medical bills.

Step 6: Taxes

You may have heard the quote, “nothing is certain except for death and taxes,” and taxes are an important part of the probate process. The executor will prepare and file the decedent’s final tax return and use estate funds to pay any outstanding taxes.

In some cases, estate taxes may reduce the value of the estate. If this occurs, the executor will have to liquidate some assets to help pay the estate tax, which is usually due within 9 months of the decedent’s death.

Step 7: Distribution

Assuming there are no disagreements, and you are not dealing with an intestate estate, the executor will distribute the estate according to your loved one’s will. In some states, this is only possible after the executor submits a complete account of the entire probate process.

You may also have to file some paperwork, depending on what you inherit. For example, if you inherit a house, you will have to transfer the deed.

Need Help?

Although the probate process ultimately breaks down to a few simple steps, the rules and paperwork can be difficult. Fortunately, you can always recruit our firm to help you through. Whether you’re an executor or a beneficiary, we can offer the legal support you deserve.

If you need help with probate, please don’t hesitate to call us at (770) 629-0154 or contact us online for a consultation.