The primary goal of probate is to ensure that the deceased person's wishes, as outlined in their will, or as mandated by state Probate law, are carried out in an orderly and lawful manner.
Probate law varies by state, but typically involves court proceedings, legal documentation, and the involvement of Executors who manage the probate process, beneficiaries who will receive the deceased's assets, Creditors who are owed money, and other parties who may have interest or disagreements.
Key aspects of probate law include:
Will Validation: A state Probate Court first verifies the authenticity of the deceased person's will and ensures that it meets legal requirements for validity. If the deceased died without having a will, then the court follows state laws to distribute assets, known as the Laws of Intestacy.
Executor Appointment: If a will is present, the court appoints an Executor, also known as a Personal Representative, to Administer the Estate. The executor is typically named in the deceased's will, and they are responsible for managing the estate, which includes inventorying assets, paying debts, and distributing assets to beneficiaries.
Debt Settlement: During probate, the executor identifies and pays the deceased person's outstanding debts and taxes from the estate's assets. This is done before assets can be distributed to beneficiaries.
Asset Distribution: Once debts are settled, the remaining assets are distributed to beneficiaries according to instructions in the deceased's will, or if there is no will, according to state intestacy laws.
Court Oversight: Probate Court provides oversight to ensure that the executor fulfills their duties in compliance with the law and the deceased's wishes.
Beneficiary Challenges: Beneficiaries, potential heirs or other Surviving Family can contest a will or aspects of the probate process if they believe it's not being handled correctly or if they believe the will is invalid.
Probate Fees: The estate may be subject to various fees associated with the probate process, including court fees, attorney fees, and Executor Fees.
Estate Administration: Probate court oversees the entire process of Estate Administration, ensuring that assets are managed and distributed appropriately.
Accounting and Reporting: The executor is often required to provide an accounting of their actions to the court and beneficiaries, showing how assets were managed and distributed.
It's important to note that not all assets necessarily go through probate. Assets with designated beneficiaries, Joint Tenancy with Rights of Survivorship, or held in a Living Trust might bypass probate.
Probate laws and regulations vary widely from state to state, so the process can differ significantly based on where the deceased person lived.