About the Probate Process

Probate is the process of administering the estate of a deceased person by resolving all claims and distributing the deceased person's property according to the instructions of the Will.

When someone dies with a valid Will in place, an Executor is named in the document. The first responsibility of the Executor after someone dies is to locate the original Will. With that document in hand, the Executor generally consults a probate lawyer of the Executor's choice to arrange to probate the Will. Probate involves filing the Will and certain other documents with the Register of Wills in the county where the person lived. If a married person dies, leaving a spouse, and all the property is titled in joint names, probate may be unnecessary. It is wise to consult with an experienced probate lawyer if you are unsure.

After the Will is probated, the next duty of the Executor is to gather information on all of the assets. The Executor has an important fiduciary duty to the heirs of the person who died, in that the Executor is held accountable for the careful administration of the estate.

After all of the assets are gathered and apportioned according to the terms of the Will, all just debts must be paid. All creditors must be notified. There are the inevitable taxes to be paid, inheritance, death, estate and income taxes, which are dependent upon the size of the estate. After all is said and done, an accounting must be prepared and shared with all of the heirs, who will then indicate their approval by signing a release. The best method to conclude the estate is a joint decision of the attorney and the Executor, as factors particular to each situation must be considered.

When you are preparing a Will, a useful tool for both you and your Executor is a planner, such as the Estate Mate Planner prepared by our own probate attorneys. It will be extremely helpful for your Executor to have ready access to a list of all of your property and its location, including the location of your Will. Such a planner also helps to coordinate your Will with your assets, so that it is possible to distribute them as you planned. You should review your Planner periodically to make sure that you still own certain property, and that your beneficiary designations, such as are found on life insurance policies, are up-to-date. Choosing an Executor is an important job, but helping him or her to do the job well requires lifetime assistance from you.