To many, the thought of probate of a loved one's estate conjures up fears of a long, expensive process that uses up the money of the estate needlessly. For many reasons, such fears are often an unnecessary concern. Sometimes loved ones inadvertently create future legal complications by failing to properly administer an estate. Estate administration involves the gathering of the assets of the deceased person (the "decedent"), determining and paying the decedent's final expenses, debts, and taxes, and distributing the property of the decedent according to the provisions of the will, if one exists, or according to the laws of inheritance if no will exists.
To probate a will means "to prove" the validity of the will of the decedent. This requires presenting the original will to the court with probate jurisdiction in the county in which the decedent lived. Most formally prepared wills were witnessed and attested in such a manner that they are "self-proving" upon being presented to the court. However, if a will was not formally attested, live witnesses may need to testify that they saw the decedent sign the will, or in the case of a handwritten (holographic) will, that they recognize the will as being entirely in the handwriting of the decedent.
Not every estate requires involvement of a probate court after a person dies. Depending on how the decedent owned property (how it was titled), ownership may have passed automatically upon death to a co-owner or a designated beneficiary. Presentation of a certified copy of a death certificate by the co-owner or beneficiary may be sufficient to establish ownership. For small estates, the law provides a less expensive, less time consuming process for getting property distributed to its rightful owners. Our firm can help surviving loved ones determine the best manner of handling a loved one's estate.
Are you an executor?
If you have been appointed as executor of a person's will, you must take great care to fulfill your legal duties in this role. It is an important responsibility, requiring personal commitment, good record-keeping, and attention to detail and deadlines. Estate property must be kept separate from the executor's personal property, must be properly invested, and must be paid out only for legitimate claims against the estate. In cases of mismanagement, an executor could become personally liable for losses to the estate.
Our firm can advise executors and other fiduciaries regarding legally imposed duties and legally required procedures.
For more information or assistance, please contact us at (423) 710-3689 or use the form on our contact page.