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Probate is one of the most complex legal processes to deal with at some point, when it comes to inheritance distribution and in general. This is because the many aspects that probating estates involve, along with distinct steps and the parties that can have interest like creditors.
Due to this description, a probate can be long, expensive and tedious to finish before you get to receive a share of the estate’s assets that correspond.
Learn about the different stages a probate carries out, and why counting on a specialized probate lawyer for these cases is quite valuable.
Steps to probate estates: A long, expensive and court-supervised procedure
In simple words, a probate refers to the court-supervised procedure of validating, inventorying and transferring a decedent’s estate to rightful heirs and beneficiaries.
Such creditors and the share of the estate’s assets they receive are possible to be previously stated in a will, or not.
Actually, the existence of a will makes little to almost no difference in the obligation of carrying out a probate.
With the litigation, what is probated is the deceased’s estate and the assets that apply according to jurisdiction, and not the will as many people think as first rule of thumb.
However, having a will can make the process easier and faster due to the previous designation of creditors and executors – also known as administrator when there is no will in existence – and also paperwork prepared in advance, regarding paid taxes and debt.
Now, what are the steps to probate estates that must be followed? Here you have them in a nutshell, so the estate settlement litigation may start by the probate court:
- Filing probate request to the probate court
Filing the probate request to the probate court is the first step of the process. Like this, the case is open and a hearing will be scheduled for the other interested parties to assist.
Usually, the person filing the probate request is the executor – if designated in a will – in lifetime by the testator´s own choice.
If the case is based on an intestate estate, the administrator in charge of carrying out the process must be chosen in the hearing. This by following local laws and jurisdiction that comply with kinship and fair right of inheritance.
- Filing public notice of probate process
Now that the probate case is open, it is mandatory to file a public notice on the case, and also a publish on the newspaper referring to the legal process and decedent´s passing. In some states, this is not an obligation.
In the same way, specific parties involved like heirs and beneficiaries must be notified by email and other means necessary, so they can know and attend the hearing and matters related to the probate case.
- Inventorying and valuing the estate´s asset
This step is critical and one of the most important. It is the executor´s or administrator´s job to put together an inventory of the decedent’s estate and the assets that include.
Such assets that apply for probate process are bank accounts, retirement funds, stocks, real estate, vehicles, jewelry and other valuable possessions.
As if collecting and inventorying the estate was not enough, determining value is even more challenging since taxes, duties and other debts must be subtracted to obtain net worth. Carrying out inventory also has estate safeguarding and appraisal purposes.
- Paying current debts, bills and related taxes
It is also the executor´s or administrator’s responsibility to pay current taxes, bills and debts for the estate.
Subject to jurisdiction, some estates apply for federal and state taxes, as well as income taxes. Usually, covering the estate settlement expenses are covered by the estate itself as a norm, including law firm if any and also public filing charges.
Apart from taxes and fees, the decedent’s debts to the state and related with the estate – as mortgages bills – must be covered or at least pay debt up to current day. Until all of these matters get solved, the estate’s assets will not be distributed.
- Distributing assets
With all of the steps carried out and every obligation of the estate covered, creditors of the assets will be able to start receiving them.
Transferring the estate’s assets to every beneficiary in their corresponding share is a process that is supervised by the probate court. This involves releasing an approval, as a way the court guarantees proper asset delivery as intended by the executor/administrator.
- Closing the estate and related case
Closing the estate means the probate process is finished, with the estate’s assets transferred to the beneficiaries and leaving you out of your role as executor or administrator.
Submitting receipts and records of paid fees and other expenses and paperwork to the probate court is a common practice to do.
How do I know if I need to do probate?
Finding out if you need to undergo a probate is actually easy to know. It all has to do with the characteristics of the estate, and according to them probating it might be mandatory or not, or also partially as not all assets must be probated.
These estate features considered for probate processes are:
- Size of the estate: the first thing to look at to know if probate is required is the actual size of the estate. Subject to jurisdiction, every state has a threshold or minimum decedent’s estate size that requires being probated. In Washington, minimum net value an estate must have to undergo probate is $40.000.
- Type of estate’s assets: if the estate surpasses threshold according to jurisdiction and must be probated, the type of assets it includes play a huge role in the process. For instance, while bank accounts, properties and real estate in sole name should be validated to be distributed, joint or designated property and assets in living trust must not.
What makes a will go into probate?
While we have talked about probating estate in general in the previous sections, whether it related with a will or not, counting on with an estate planning resource of this type is actually relevant.
With a will, a probate is possible to be easier, less expensive and finish faster, as executors and beneficiaries are designated by the testator.
Usually, estate that is supported with a will is more prepared in terms of asset designation and other financial planning tools like trusts.
Another relevant advantage of a will is that estates do not fall into local intestacy laws, which are different and usually more complex than dealing with an intestate estate, in terms of inheritance distribution and administrator and creditor titling.
Something important to clarify is: wills always undergo probate if related estate they describe meet features mentioned in the previous section, such as size and type.
How do you start a probate process?
Getting started with a probate process begins with the designated executor or possible administrator – who must be approved in the hearing by probate court and involved parties – filing a probate request.
In such a request – also known as application – details of the case, decedent´s death certificate and other documents must be included.
Thus, so the probate case to be opened the court will schedule a meeting for interested parties to attend and start covering the estate validation procedure and eventual distribution.
Step to probate a will in Washington D.C.
Do you require starting a probate case in Washington D.C.? In the District of Columbia, filing a probate application is issued with the D. C. Superior Court to manage the case, specifically by the Probate Division.
The court will approve or disapprove the probate application according to laws in Washington.
In case probate is accepted, the court will appoint a personal representative supported by a Letter of Administration, same case for estates with a will and designated executor.
Typical steps to probate follow after court approval, such as estate´s inventorying and valuing, tax and debt payment and distribution, according to District of Columbia Law.
Probate Attorney in Washington D.C.
Hiring a probate lawyer in Washington D. C. to optimize and obtain support during the entire process is a must. At Lopez Law Firm LLC, you get professional assistance and representation as administrator, executor or creditor or any role you play in the process.