All estates go through the probate process slightly differently. This breakdown is meant to showcase a fairly “regular” probate procedure.
The very first step in the probate process is to file the petition for probate. This petition, along with the original will and codicils (legal alterations to the will) are filed with the probate court. The Notice of Petition to Administer Estate is also filed during this stage. In this case, the “petitioner” is usually the proposed personal representative.
Once these forms have been filed, the court clerk will set a hearing for 45-60 days after the filing date. It is at this point that notice has to be given to all of the people named in the will. This is the stage at which you will first receive notice of your inheritance. The Notice of Petition to Administer Estate is also published in a local newspaper to alert the decedent’s creditors. It is during this time that they must file their claims with the court.
At the hearing, if no one has filed an objection to the probate, the court will admit the will to probate and appoint the PR. After this appointment, the court will issue Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration which are used by the PR to prove that they have the authority to act on behalf of the estate.
The second step in the probate process consists of an ongoing process of filings, notifications and applicable settlements. The following is just a short list of tasks which must be completed:
- Identify all of the assets owned by the decedent at the time of death.
- File an Inventory & Appraisal which values the estate’s assets, both real (land) and personal.
- Notify the Department of Health Services.
- Liquidate all of the estate’s assets.
- Pay any debts, claims or taxes that are due and object to claims which should not be allowed.
- Settle all financial and property disputes.
The final step in the probate process consists of closing the estate and distributing the remaining assets to the heirs. If all goes smoothly, the final actions in the probate will be as follows:
- Obtain a court order of distribution.
- Close the estate accounts.
- Make final distributions to the heirs.
- Obtain receipts from the heirs for the distributions made to them.
As you can tell, the probate process is indeed a long and difficult process. The good news is that the personal representative chose to retain a probate attorney to guide the estate through this complicated process. The bad news is that, even with the help of an attorney, the probate process can still take 12-18 months and in many cases even longer.