According to CNBC, about two-thirds of adults in the United States do not have an estate plan and risk dying intestate. When this happens, the state steps in to handle probate.
The state’s role only really applies to the distribution of assets. So, whether you have a will or not, the steps in the process are the same.
Petition to open probate
The probate process commences with the filing of a petition to open probate. Your executor or personal representative will submit your will with the petition to the appropriate court, requesting the formal initiation of the probate process.
Once the court accepts the petition, it will schedule a hearing. During this hearing, the court reviews the petition, hears any objections and officially appoints a personal representative to oversee the estate’s administration.
Accounting of assets
The next step for the personal representative is creating an inventory of your assets. This includes everything from real estate and bank accounts to personal property and investments. A comprehensive list of assets ensures a fair distribution to heirs.
Determining the validity of the will
If you had a valid will, the court will verify its legitimacy. This process typically involves ensuring that you executed the will correctly, free from undue influence or coercion.
Managing the estate
The personal representative’s primary responsibility is to manage the estate’s assets. This includes safeguarding and preserving the property and investments until distribution to the heirs.
The representative must settle your debts. This includes paying off outstanding loans, medical bills and any other obligations. Creditors have the opportunity to make claims against the estate during this phase.
Disbursement to heirs
Once the representative settles the debts, he or she will distribute the remaining assets according to the terms of the will or, in the absence of a will, according to state laws of inheritance. This process ensures that the rightful heirs receive their inheritances.
Closing the estate
After the disbursement and debt settlement is complete, the personal representative files a final accounting with the court. This document provides a detailed report of the estate’s administration, including all financial transactions. Once the court approves the final accounting, it closes the estate.
The probate process can be time-consuming and may vary from one case to another. The duration often depends on the complexity of the estate, the presence of disputes or legal challenges and the court’s caseload.