When a loved one passes away there’s work to be done on their behalf. Family, friends and other key stakeholders must go about dividing up all the assets and possessions that the deceased accumulated over their lifetime. That process is made exponentially easier if your loved one previously set up a will. If they did not, however, there are still legal means available to assist the family in taking care of the deceased’s estate.
The gray area between your loved one’s passing and the execution of their will is otherwise known as probate.
What is probate?
Before the contents of a person’s will can be executed, it is essential that the courts take a look at the deceased’s assets, paying special attention to whether or not they’ve put their final wishes in writing. This period is known as probate.
Once the court has had the opportunity to review the person’s assets, they will then authorize the distribution of any money, real estate, property or personal items that the deceased may have. Once distribution is complete, the court will make a final ruling on the transaction’s status before closing the case.
Probate cases including a will
Probate is a much simpler process if the deceased has a will in place. If they’ve spelled out their wishes, they are also known as a “testator.” In the will, the testator must name an executor. The executor has numerous functions, including:
- Filing the probate paperwork
- Valuing the deceased’s assets
- Overseeing their dispersal to appropriate parties
- Paying off any outstanding debts the deceased may have
- Filing a final income tax form on the deceased’s behalf
The probate court’s function is to ultimately oversee that the executor completes these duties in accordance with the deceased’s wishes.
Probate cases without a will included
If the deceased did not write out a will prior to their death, things are not so direct. There is a heavier burden placed on the court. When a person fails to create a will prior to their death, their assets are called an “intestate estate.” The court must do its diligence to settle that estate in a timely manner.
First, the court must appoint an administrator who essentially functions as an executor. It is that person’s duty to settle outstanding debt and taxes, locate any surviving family members and distribute the remaining assets.
It is in everyone’s best interest to put their wishes into writing, especially while they are of sound mind and body. If a loved one failed to do so, the situation is far from hopeless. There are legal avenues available should you need the help.