Probate is the legal process of settling one’s estate after their death from beginning to end. There are many laws governing the process and depending on the value of the estate, it can get complicated. The process of probate includes the court authenticating the last will and testament, and the executor distributing the assets and satisfying any debts.
In most cases with a will, a specific person has been designated to be the executor, but if there isn’t a will, a close relative is typically appointed for the job to be the personal representative. The designated person can decline the responsibilities if they so choose and someone else can assume the duties.
Steps of probate
When a person dies, a case is opened in the county where he or she lived at the time of death. A relative presents the will to the probate court and submits an application for the probate process to begin. At that time, a judge will verify that the will is legitimate and set a date for a hearing. All listed beneficiaries are invited to attend the hearing and have the chance to object to what’s in the will being presented to the probate court.
Job of an executor
The court then gives approval to the executor to administer the will. The executor’s job is considerable and includes:
- Finding and securing the assets of the deceased. It’s important to note that if accounts or property are jointly owned, those are not subject to probate.
- Protecting those assets, such as keeping insurance current on the house or cars and securing other valuables in a safe location.
- Locating any financial statements and compiling a list of the assets.
- Contacting any creditors to give them a chance to file a claim on the estate.
- Satisfying any debts and paying tax bills.
- Distributing the assets and property to the beneficiaries as specified.
- Closing the estate once everything has been paid and settled.
The probate process ends when the will is settled, meaning the assets of the estate are distributed and all debts are satisfied. Probate can take anywhere from months to years depending on the size of the estate.
If there isn’t a will, Minnesota’s intestate laws apply. With a will, property and assets go to beneficiaries according to the decedent’s wishes but when there isn’t a will, the intestate laws give the property to relatives according to the order of succession (the children and grandchildren first and so on.)
Seek professional help
Having a will doesn’t help your survivors to avoid the probate process – it happens either way – but you can avoid probate by having a trust instead of a will. It’s best to consult your attorney about your options.
The job of an executor can be overwhelming with the many tasks and responsibilities involved. If you are the executor of a will, a skilled estate attorney can guide you through this process to help you find assets, determine their value, meet deadlines, stay on track and ensure the best possible outcome.