Expecting an inheritance from the estate of a loved one? Unfortunately for heirs, quick distribution of inheritances isn't always guaranteed. This legal process is known as probate. What are the steps in probate, and what do they mean for you as an heir? Here's what you need to know.
The first step in probate is to notify the court of the existence of the will and request the first hearing about it. This is usually done by the named executor, although anyone with a stake in the will can notify the court and officially start the process.
Naming a Representative
If there was a will and an executor was named within it, the court will hold a hearing in which that person is confirmed to have the responsibility of executing the will. If no one was named by the person whose estate it is, the court will designate a personal representative on its own. This person is often one put forward by the heirs or family, but it can also be an independent and impartial party.
Once the representative is named, the executor will begin the process of locating and inventorying all the assets and debts of the estate. This might be relatively simple and take just a little time, or it could be a long project involving identifying assets, establishing ownership or equity, and valuing items.
During this period, the executor or representative is also responsible for maintaining the estate, caring for all the assets, performing maintenance, providing security, making income or investment decisions, and paying taxes. They will also pay creditors of legitimate estate debts or expenses.
Now that all the assets are totaled and debts are paid, the court will hold a hearing to inform all parties of the final state of the estate. The executor provides an account of their actions during the previous steps and where any estate money has been spent. Then, the executor will determine the proper amount to be distributed to heirs per the will or state rules.
Once this final distribution is effected, the estate will be closed and probate is finalized. From start to end, some states require this to happen within 12 months, although complicated or large estates can be given more time.
Where to Learn More
Probate is an unfamiliar process for most people, so understanding how it works and what to expect will help you protect your inheritance and avoid problems. Have specific questions? Learn more today by meeting with a probate lawyer in the jurisdiction of the estate.