What is probate? How do I know if the probate of a loved one’s estate is necessary?
Probate is the court-supervised process of distributing a decedent’s assets after their death. It is important to consult with an attorney after a loved one’s death to review the titling of their assets to determine whether probate of their estate is necessary. This is often accomplished by reviewing deeds to real property, financial institution statements, stock certificates, contracts, etc.
How long does probate take?
There are many steps to complete in the probate process and each estate is unique. Some of the factors that influence the length of time it takes to settle an estate include where the personal representative (aka the executor) and beneficiaries live, the age of the beneficiaries, whether the court requires a bond, the type of assets involved, the number of creditors and the need for filing tax returns for the deceased and the estate. Generally, once an attorney has all of the information regarding the decedent, the beneficiaries, the personal representative,and the estate assets, the attorney can establish an estimated time frame. Oftentimes, a typical formal probate process can take up to and sometimes exceed a year. A summary administration is a shortened form of probate that takes less time but is only an option in certain cases.
When should I see an attorney?
Many people have difficulty tackling the paperwork and tasks that need to be completed after the death of a loved one. However, there are some tasks that need to be dealt with early. It is wise to contact an attorney as soon as you are able. The process of obtaining Letters of Administration (the court issued document that enables the Personal Representative to act on behalf of the decedent) can take several weeks, therefore, waiting to see an attorney may add much more time on top of the already lengthy probate process, adding frustration on top of your grief.
What can I expect at my first meeting with the attorney?
The attorney will gather as much information from you as possible to get a complete picture of the decedent’s financial affairs. This includes reviewing the decedent’s financial statements, copies of bills, deeds to real property, titles to vehicles, and the decedent’s will, trust, or family situation in the event the decedent died without a will or trust. The meeting is much like an interview. Once the attorney has enough information, the client is provided with a general approach to settling the decedent’s estate. The client is usually asked to locate additional documents or information and given a task list while the attorney prepares documents to file with the court and correspondence to the estate’s beneficiaries.