The issue of probate and what it means seldom arises until someone dies, and therefore no one gives much thought to dealing with it. That can change quickly, however, particularly if you've been named as the personal representative (executor) of a deceased person's estate. Estate attorneys do exist, but it can be immensely helpful to have a basic understanding of what will happen during the probate process. Read on to see the three quick steps that comprise probate.
1. File the will with the court. Once the will is located, a reading with all pertinent parties present is called for. The will should explicitly name you, and sometimes also a co-personal representative, to be in charge of ensuring that the estate is handled during probate and that named beneficiaries are provided with their inheritances. Your estate attorney will handle the actual filing at your local county probate court, and will likely place an ad in a local newspaper requesting that creditors with any interest in the estate come forward to place a claim.
2. The estate is inventoried and valued. Probate can take some months to be final, so in the meantime it will be up to you to take stock of the entire estate. An inventory must be performed and the items given a value, using the services of a professional appraiser where necessary. This inventory must be filed with the probate court, so the sooner you accomplish it the sooner probate can move forward. Even for small and simple estates, the inventory list will be extensive. It must include real estate, vehicles, boats, furniture, jewelry, art, pets (yes, pets are property for estate purposes) and more. Also during this time, you must attend to the bills of the estate. Be sure to consult with the estate attorney to find out which bills should be paid now, and which should wait till after probate.
3. The property is distributed. Once you receive the probate court's final decree of probate, you are free to follow the deceased's wishes and allow the beneficiaries to access the property. In most instance, the beneficiary need only appear and take the property. In the case of real estate, a deed change is in order. For vehicles, a title change should be accomplished. By now, there should be plenty of copies of the death certificate and copies of the probate paperwork to distribute to all.
You will likely have more questions about the handling of estates during probate, and your estate attorney will be happy to help.