Probate is a court-supervised process intended to ensure the validity of a will and to protect the distribution of assets after a person has died. If there is no will, probate still takes place, according to the article “Probate—Courts protecting you after death” from Pauls Valley Democrat.
Every estate that owns property must be probated, unless the title or ownership of the property has been transferred before the person died by gift, if the property is owned jointly with another person, or if it passes by direct beneficiary designation. If a person died without a will, probate still takes place.
In all cases, it’s better to have a will and to decide for yourself how you want your assets distributed. If you don’t have a will, which is referred to as dying “intestate,” the court decides who is going to serve as your administrator. This person will be in charge of distributing all of your worldly goods and taking care of the business part of settling your estate, like paying taxes, selling your home, etc. Without a will, the court picks a person, and it might not be the person you would have wanted.
Here are the basic steps in probating an estate, once the probate petition is filed:
Initial hearing. This is where the court affirms its jurisdiction and identifies all known heirs, and the executor is identified.
Letters Testamentary. This document is issued to the executor. This is a judge signed document proving to others, like banks and investment custodians, that the executor is legally permitted to handle your property and act on behalf of your estate. It’s similar to a Power of Attorney.
Probate. This court process collects, identifies, and accounts for all assets of a decedent. The executor must be mindful to document any money going in and out of the estate during the administrative process.
Written notice must be given to all and any known heirs. This can occasionally lead to relatives and others believing they have a claim on your estate and to then challenge the provisions of your will with the court.
Notice is also provided to creditors, who have four months after notice is provided to make a claim on the estate. On some occasions, these notices are published in local newspapers, once a week for two or more consecutive weeks. Once they receive fair notice, general creditors who fail to file a claim lose their right to ever file a claim on the estate.
An estate plan is created with an eye to minimizing taxes, maximizing privacy for the family and heirs, and transferring ownership of assets with as little red tape as possible. Failing to properly plan can lead to a probate taking months, and in some cases, years.
Reference: Pauls Valley Democrat (July 1, 2021) “Probate—Courts protecting you after death”