To put it simply, ‘probate’ is what happens to the estate of a person when they pass away. It is the legal mechanism by which property, business, belongings, and any money that is left, is disbursed among the heirs.
Clearly, this process is much easier if the deceased has prepared a legally binding document to instruct the executors of the estate on exactly where they want the different assets to be distributed – usually by way of a will or a living trust. These instructions will identify the beneficiaries and what it is wished for them to receive. However, in many cases, these legal documents do not exist, which means that the courts will decide how to proceed.
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Using a Probate Attorney
At Dixie Law, we know that our clients are undergoing a lot of hassle and worry at a critical time. Entering the probate process is stressful, with court-decided timeframes and deadlines at a time when you should be able to grieve and begin to process your loss.
If you are the administrator or appointed executor of an estate, you can rely on our services to help you navigate the probate process smoothly, with the peace of mind that once the case has been concluded, you can move on with your life.
Get in touch with one of our experienced team members today and we can help you and your family through the process!
What Does the Probate Process Entail?
If clear, unambiguous instructions have been left for the estate, then the probate process will essentially consist of a court authenticating the will and approving the executor. All of the assets and liabilities will be identified and calculated, debts and taxes paid off, and then the executor will issue bequeathments.
On the other hand, if the deceased passed away ‘intestate’ (without a valid will) then beneficiaries will be identified by the court, who will also decide where property and assets are distributed. This situation is one to avoid wherever possible – rifts quickly arise in families where the relatives or friends of the deceased believe that they are due specific items/property or money, and those rifts can end up in litigation which will inevitably be both financially tolling and relationship-destroying.
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Why Is Probate Complicated?
Some circumstances will result in the estate going through a more complicated probate process:
Beneficiaries predeceasing the benefactor
If someone has been named in the will as the recipient of a bequeathment, and they predecease the benefactor, then that bequeathment will be subject to a court decision. It is important to always make sure that a will is kept up to date, particularly in the event that an intended beneficiary passes away.
Belongings that do not have paperwork associated with them – ornaments, jewelry, appliances, collections, etc. – could be allocated by the courts, unless specific mention of them was made in estate planning. This can be of particular import when it comes to the more sentimental items – if there is a wristwatch handed down through a family for generations, for example, then it needs to have been clearly stated who should receive it next.
In cases where a property is co-owned with a partner, the will needs to make sure that each share in the investment is properly allocated, or the probate court will step in and decide. Shares can be assigned to a beneficiary through a will, through a trust, or through ‘survivor’s rights’ – where it will automatically pass to a survivor without the need for probate.
How Long Does Probate Take?
If the estate or the group of potential beneficiaries is small, then the probate process can take less than a year – particularly if there are no complications and no one contests anything. In other cases, the probate can take several years – all the while, the legacy is being diminished (by the costs associated with the probate, by ongoing taxes, and other factors) and the deceased’s loved ones are not able to fully move on. This is the key reason for making and maintaining a clear, unambiguous, and all-encompassing will – to spare those people that are most cherished the stress and costs of a long and drawn-out disbursement process.
Call us to remove the hassle of probate so you can properly grieve and your family won’t have to worry about missing deadlines!
For further information about probate, to discuss using our services to handle the probate process for you, or if you need help making a will then get in touch with one of our expert probate attorneys today. There is absolutely no obligation.
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