Probate: Understanding The Process And Purpose

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The purpose of probate is to legally establish the validity of a deceased person's will and to transfer ownership of the deceased person's assets to the designated beneficiaries or heirs. Probate is the court-supervised process that ensures that a deceased person's property is distributed in accordance with their wishes or state laws if they did not have a will.

During probate, a court will appoint an executor or personal representative to manage the deceased person's assets and debts. The executor is responsible for identifying and valuing the assets, paying any outstanding debts or taxes, and distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries or heirs.

The probate process serves several important purposes, including:

  1. Ensuring that the deceased person's assets are distributed according to their wishes or state laws if there is no will. If a will cannot be found or doesn't exist, the probate court will use the state's rules of succession to determine the beneficiaries. Each state has its own rules of succession. However, many states divide the estate between a current spouse and any adult children of the deceased. If no spouse or children exist, the state might award the estate to siblings, grandchildren, cousins, and so on. 
  2. Validating the authenticity of the deceased person's will and ensuring that it was properly executed. Not all wills contain legal provisions. If a will contains an illegal provision, that provision or the entire will could be invalidated. For instance, a will should never direct anyone to commit a crime, fraud, or unethical action to be awarded an inheritance.
  3. Identifying and valuing the deceased person's assets, which may be necessary for tax purposes or for determining the distribution of assets. The value is determined using an inventory of the estate and is often performed by the personal representative. 
  4. Settling any outstanding debts or taxes owed by the deceased person before distributing the remaining assets. Only certain creditors are paid, in most cases. The probate lawyer, using the probate court's guidance, will determine who is to be paid. Often, tax bills have a priority.
  5. Resolving any disputes or challenges to the will or the distribution of assets. One of the reasons why probate takes many months to complete is that time is allowed for parties to come forward to file contestations to the will. 

The probate process is designed to ensure that the deceased person's assets are distributed fairly and in accordance with their wishes or state laws. For more information on probate administration services, contact a professional near you.

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