My dad just died. He named me the personal representative of his will. Now what?
What is involved in probating a loved one’s estate? Many people feel overwhelmed when they lose a relative or friend, and find themselves in the unenviable position of having to grieve the loss of their loved one, arrange the funeral, deal with difficult relatives, figure out how to pay bills and take care of the deceased’s house, pets, etc.—and on top of all that, they have to find a lawyer to help them deal with the estate.
If the value of the deceased’s possessions exceeds than $100,000, it may be necessary to initiate a probate. Probate means a legal proceeding in which the court has jurisdiction to administer and distribute the assets of a deceased person to those who are legally entitled to the estate.
There are several basic steps to a probate. Once the will has been admitted to probate and an executor or “personal representative” has been appointed to administer the estate, the personal representative must ascertain what assets the deceased owned that need to be included in the probate. Assets subject to probate are those that are titled in the name of the deceased and that are not held in joint tenancy (such as a joint bank account), or that don’t have a beneficiary designation (such as an insurance policy). Assets held in the name of a trust are not subject to probate, either.
The personal representative must file an inventory within 60 days of his or her appointment listing all the assets. The personal representative must publish notice to creditors and send copies of the notice to all known creditors. Legitimate debts of the deceased must be paid from the estate. All tax returns must be filed and taxes paid, if any. Often it is necessary or desirable to sell the assets; and in the case of real property, the sale is subject to confirmation by the court.
Finally, when the estate is ready to be distributed and closed, the personal representative must file an accounting of his or her work on the estate, and petition the court for an order allowing distribution of the remaining assets—less fees and costs of estate administration—to the persons designated in the will to receive the estate. Usually that would be the spouse or children of the deceased.
In some ways, the probate process is simple, but it can also be very complex depending on the circumstances. A good lawyer can help to make the process much easier.
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