What Is Probate?

Probate is the legal, court supervised process that distributes a deceased person’s estates to the designated beneficiaries and heirs. During this process, any debts owed to creditors will also be paid off. This process is done according to the deceased’s last will and testament, if there is one. To make sure your assets are distributed according to your final wishes, it’s important to work with an experienced estate planning attorney at J. Scott Lanford in Melbourne, FL.

Since there are laws specific to each state when it comes to ascertaining what is necessary to probate an estate, it’s absolutely vital to have an attorney skilled in probate codes. There are several general steps, however, which need to be followed regardless of what state you are in.

The probate process

First, someone must administer the estate (usually named in the will). If no one has been named the executor, the court will appoint someone. This person will oversee the entire probate process.

The will must then be authenticated in a court hearing; notaries, signatures, and witnesses must comply with state law if you want your will to be valid. During this time, objections can be made. After the process, the judge will then confirm if the will is valid.

The property is then identified and an inventory is made. The executor will thoroughly look for any assets and make a thorough list of them. However, until probate is complete, most assets cannot be sold. The property is then appraised, and all creditor claims and debts must be paid. The final tax return must also be filed, and any taxes due must be paid off with estate funds.

Once all these steps have been completed, the estate can be distributed. This is done according to the will and trust of the decedent, or according to state law if no will was left behind.

Other conditions

If someone passes without a will (or if it is determined to be invalid), state law will then determine how to distribute the decedent’s property and assets. If some assets were not designated to a certain beneficiary, the state will then decide how to split up these assets.

There are also certain assets not included in probate. If there is a “payable upon death” beneficiary named in a legal contract, such as in life insurance policies, they do not have to go through probate. Another way to avoid probate is to place assets in a living trust.

The entire probate process tends to take an average of anywhere between 6 to 9 months, depending on if the will is contested, any associated costs, and other factors. To help ensure your will and trust comply with all probate laws and that your assets reach your intended beneficiaries in as little time as possible, with as few costs as possible, please speak to one of our estate planning attorneys. We look forward to hearing from you.

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