Probate is the legal process of presenting your will 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.
While having both a completed will and an appointed executor is crucial to your estate planning, it is not the end of the road. Unbeknownst to most, the executor of your will is not free to act on your behalf after your death until they have been properly appointed by the court. This legal process of appointment is called probate.
Because probate is a legal process, there are several steps that must be followed with strict attention to detail to ensure proper execution of your will. One of the first steps in this process is for the executor of the will to obtain “letters of administration” from all living heirs, which state that the will is the responsibility of the executor and that they will not contest it. All living heirs, including heirs that are not beneficiaries of the will, must sign a letter of administration before the executor can be appointed.
This process can be complicated in cases where the deceased had multiple marriages, minor children, grandchildren, or heirs that are legally incapacitated or mentally disabled. Once the letters of administration have been issued by the Court, the executor is responsible for compiling a list of all assets contained in the will and how they intend to distribute them. Furthermore, the executor is responsible for ensuring any liens, debts, or taxes are paid from the estate assets. Upon completion of these steps, the estate is free to disburse to the heirs of the will.
Probate will provide security and validity to your will execution. Having a will probated will help ensure that every asset listed in your will can be legally transferred to your heirs. Probate is especially beneficial for those with large, complex estates that are likely to be contested.
If all steps are properly followed, this process can be completed as quickly as seven to nine months. While probate is not for everyone, it provides distinct benefits to those who can take advantage of it. Namely, the security of having a Court oversight of the disbursement of your estate as well as the inability for the will to be contested by heirs or creditors once the process is complete.
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