What happens during the probate process? 

After someone dies (if their estate must be probated) the court must appoint someone to be executor or personal representative to manage the affairs of the estate. The deceased usually names an executor or personal representative in their will, but this is not always the final say. While people may hand out property in their wills, the state’s laws and creditors’ claims may complicate things in court. The more complex and larger the estate, the longer this process will take. A simple estate can still take 8 to 10 months to go through the entire probate process, but if someone is contesting the will, if the will is not clear about who gets what, or if there are complications with the decedent’s property, it can take much longer.

The court will give you “letters testamentary” or “letters of administration” showing you are authorized to deal with all the facets of the estate, such as collecting insurance proceeds, collecting debts owed the estate, establishing an estate bank account, paying creditors’ claims, signing releases, listing real property for sale, transferring bank accounts, and any other duties that become necessary as a result of your appointment as personal representative.

The personal representative must adhere to strict filing deadlines with the court, notify creditors and heirs, notify the state, and others of the probate and their possible interest in it. They must file a notice with a local newspaper as well.

The personal representative must file an inventory with the court listing the value of all probate property. The personal representative is also in charge of filing an annual accounting if the probate lasts over a year, and a final accounting once the estate is ready for distribution. This details all the additions to and withdrawals from the estate bank account, and other actions taken in the role as personal representative. It is important that all estate property is kept separate from all other property of the personal representative.

Being appointed personal representative can be time consuming, and stressful. Hiring a competent and experienced probate attorney can help ensure compliance with court rules and state law, and can make the process smoother and faster.

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