As you begin your estate planning journey, you have likely heard the term probate before. It is just one of many pieces of terminology that may be used without explanation. As you become more involved in estate planning, though, it’s important that you understand what terms like this mean.
When does probate happen?
When someone passes, their estate is left behind. This is where probate steps in. This process looks different for every estate and relies heavily on any other estate planning documents. It can either be completely court-sanctioned if you do not have an estate plan or it can simply help those involved in your estate plan carry it out.
How does probate work?
If you are involved in the estate planning process of someone else, especially as an executor (also called a personal representative), you will facilitate the probate process and follow their estate plan. Here are the basic steps to the probate process, though it can vary significantly depending on the type of estate:
- Locate the will and other estate planning documents
- Read will to heirs, executor and any other involves parties
- Executor will come forward to take over
- Documents go to the court for approval by a judge
- Locate and appraise assets
- File probate with the court and alert creditors
- Pay bills and debts as claimed by creditors in the court
- Pay taxes
- Manage the estate while it goes through probate
- Distribute assets according to the will
If there is not any estate planning involved prior to the passing, meaning that there is no will or executor named, the court will take over. The state will choose the administrator and the heirs.
What goes through probate?
Everything will likely go through probate unless your estate plan deals with it in other ways. The most common way to keep pieces of your estate from going through probate is to create a trust, which puts those assets in the hands of the trustee and beneficiary. Some assets have specified beneficiaries already named, like in insurance policies and retirement plans.
Probate can be overwhelming and confusing. If you are dealing with the probate process, it can be helpful to talk with an attorney. They can help you understand your role in the process and how to care for the estate of your loved one.