Probate takes place after a person dies to assure that their estate is distributed correctly.  There are many things to know about probate if you are preparing your estate plan, you rea a beneficiary or you were selected as the executor responsible for probate and estate administration.

Probate defined

This is a court-supervised process, governing most estates, to take control of the decedent’s assets and to transfer ownership from a decedent to their beneficiaries. The executor or personal representative helps administer the estate and is responsible for overseeing the distribution of its assets and settling debts with creditors. Because of these responsibilities, a competent and trustworthy executor must be selected.

Process

After a person dies, a surviving person will obtain their will, death certificate and other important documents for presentation to the probate court. After the will is authenticated, the court names an executor.

The executor will gather and value the decedent’s property, investments, retirement assets and other valuable items. Creditors receive notification so they can make claims against the estate.

After all the assets are obtained and valued, the executor begins distributing the remainder of the estate to heirs. The executor must also file and pay the decedent’s final taxes.

Probate can take several months or several years depending on the estate’s complexity. Part of that time is required to provide creditors with sufficient notice to make claims while the probate proceedings are open.

Disadvantages

Probate may be costly and lengthy. It is a public process. Heirs must await final decisions and estate distribution. There also costs for court fees, legal and accounting costs, and executor compensation.

One positive aspect is that creditor claims are restricted to a specific period. Creditors may be unable to obtain money after the proceedings are over.

Avoidance

A person can help heirs avoid probate through estate planning. A lifetime revocable trust does not undergo probate. It allows the transfer of assets and may be changed when the testator is alive.

Assets may be passed to beneficiaries through life insurance, retirement accounts and IRAs outside the will. Reducing the size of the estate, by setting up a 529 college savings accounts, can also help reduce the size of the estate to fall below the probate cutoff.

An attorney can help present probate options. They can also assist executors and heir throughout this process.