Probate Process

The process of distributing the decedent’s estate is called probate. While several ways to avoid probate exist, in many cases beneficiaries have to go through this process to claim the assets that belong to them by law.

Before tackling the probate process, it’s crucial to know what a grant of probate is all about to prepare the requirements early. A grant of probate refers to a legal document that is necessary to administer a deceased person’s estate. When an administrator or executor successfully applied for a grant of probate, then the arrangement of the administrative, legal, and tax duties involved in the estate administration can proceed. The estate administration procedure may also include locating the beneficiaries and collecting all assets of the deceased. The executor can help the beneficiaries to transfer or sell any property or land owned by the deceased and settle any outstanding debts on the estate. The executor can also distribute the estate to the beneficiaries in accordance with the will’s terms and conditions.
Most people are somewhat hesitant about probate, thinking that it’s time-consuming and complicated. While this process may take several months or sometimes years, in the majority of cases it’s rather simple.

The timeline and stages of the probate process vary from state to state. According to the probate lawyer from Orlando, it usually boils down to the following steps.

1. Filing a petition

The process begins with filing a petition to the probate court. The petition asks the court to admit the executor according to the will. If the decedent didn’t leave a will, the court will have to appoint an administrator of the estate.

When filing the petition, you need to have the will or, if it doesn’t exist, a death certificate. Then, the court will schedule a hearing, during which the executor or administrator will be approved. All beneficiaries and heirs should receive notice about this hearing so they can voice their protests and objections if any.

A local newspaper may publish a notice of such a hearing to notify all parties, which may be involved. (e.g. creditors). This is a requirement in some states. 

2. Notifying creditors

Once the executor receives the appointment, they must notify (in writing) all creditors of the estate according to state law. If there is a creditor, who wants to make a claim on the deceased’s assets, they should do it within a certain period. That period differs from state to state.

Most of the time, life insurance, retirement accounts, brokerage accounts, and living trust of a deceased person are protected from creditors.

Your executor may send a copy of the testator’s death certificate to each creditor. In this way, the creditors will stop attempting to collect unpaid bills. The creditors will inform the major credit bureaus (including Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion) of the testator’s death to prevent others from using the deceased person’s name or identity to apply for credit.

3. Inventorying assets

The next step is to make an inventory of all the decedent’s probate property, such as:
  • Real estate
  • Stocks
  • Bonds
  • Business interests
  • Personal effects
  • Bank and retirement accounts
In some cases, you would need to hire an independent appraiser to understand the value of non-cash assets.

4. Taking care of debts

Once the assets are inventoried and appraised, the executor needs to take care of bills and debts left over from the decedent. Outstanding checks, rents, bills, taxes, and debts must be covered before proceeding to the next step of probate.

The executor needs to review all debts carefully for them not to surface once the assets are distributed among the beneficiaries. Creditors can file claims within a certain period. Once that time is up, the executor can start distributing assets.

5. Distributing the assets

Once all debts and bills are covered, the time comes to distribute all assets that remain. The executor distributes the remaining property to rightful heirs according to the will. In case there is no will, the assets are distributed under the laws of intestacy.

Once all assets are distributed, the executor submits all the paperwork to the court and requests the estate to be closed.

The complexity of the probate process depends on many factors, including the location of the beneficiaries, the clarity of the will, and the size of debts. However, the basic steps remain the same for the majority of probates.