What is probate?

It is the legal process of presenting your Will, if you have one, to the Court after your death to authenticate it and appoint your Executor.  Your Executor must be appointed by the Court in order to collect and distribute your assets as stated in your Will. However, because it is a legal process, there are many steps that must be followed before your Executor can be appointed.

All your heirs need to be identified and notified of the Estate being open and are required to be served with all Court filings. Even if your heir(s) is not a beneficiary, they still need to be notified and have an opportunity to respond. This can be very different in second-marriage situations, if you have minor children, or if you have a child you have lost contact with.   If a child dies before you, then all of your deceased child’s children are involved as heirs, but if they are under 18, the Court will need to appoint a separate attorney to represent them. The same is true if any of your heirs are legally incapacitated, such as a mentally disabled child or a spouse with Alzheimer’s or some other condition rendering them incapacitated.

How long does the probate process take?

This period is a minimum of several months after the Executor is appointed. However, in many cases, it can take a year or more. If you die without a will, the process is similar, but the State decides who gets your assets, not you.

There are attorneys that do nothing but probate work.  It consists of a lot of paperwork, accumulation of assets and liabilities, notifications, dealing with creditors and often distraught family members and distribution of assets.  This can require several Court appearances and can cause extreme discord between your loved ones as they each think they know what you would have wanted and they each may want specific items and property.  If they cannot decide among themselves how it is distributed, the Court will decide.

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