When a loved one passes away and used a will for their estate plan or had no estate plan at all (dying intestate), his or her estate goes through a court proceeding called probate. Probate's main purpose is to accomplish the transfer of assets from the deceased's estate to beneficiaries. Probate also serves as a forum to resolve disputes and a place where final claims of creditors can be satisfied. The length of time needed to complete probate of an estate depends on the size and complexity of the estate and the schedule of the probate court.
Every probate estate is unique, but most involve the following steps:
- Filing of a petition with the proper probate court.
- Notice to heirs under the Will or to statutory heirs (if no Will exists).
- Petition to appoint Executor (in the case of a Will) or Administrator for the estate.
- Inventory and appraisal of estate assets by Executor/Administrator.
- Payment of estate debt to rightful creditors.
- Sale of estate assets.
- Payment of estate taxes, if applicable.
- Final distribution of assets to heirs.
If your loved-one owned assets through a well drafted and properly funded living trust, it is likely that no court-managed administration is necessary. The successor trustee still needs to administer the distribution of the deceased's assets, but this is a much simpler process that is done through the attorney's office rather than through the public court system.
Trust administration is different depending on the type of trusts used to plan the estate, but generally involves the following steps:
- Gathering the Assets
- Certification of successor trusteee
- Application for Tax Identification Numbers
- Distribution of Assets