Probate is the court-supervised process of administering the estate of a deceased person. Submitting the final will to the probate court starts the formal process. Probate proceedings vary from state to state, depending on local jurisdictions and the complexity of each estate. While general provisions apply to most probate proceedings, contact an attorney or your local probate court clerk if you have questions regarding specific instructions on filing a will for probate in your state.
Wills outline the deceased’s instructions regarding the division of assets. For individuals with minor children or pets, wills may also contain directives regarding the guardianship of dependents and the allocation of funds to cover any expenses in connection with providing care. After executing a will, individuals may amend or modify the provisions in the will to reflect changing circumstances.
Although stipulations may vary, most states require the submission of the will and death certificate within a few months of the date of death. Anyone in possession of the decedent’s original last will and testament must present the will to the named executor or to the probate court in the town or county of the decedent’s place of residence at the time of death.
In addition to locating and filing the final will and the death certificate, the executor is responsible for other actions in administering the estate. In many instances, the executor must compile an accurate inventory of all the decedent’s belongings, pay any outstanding debts and taxes due, liquidate investments and real estate properties, make designated contributions to charities, and divided personal assets and belongings, according to the instructions in the will and the orders of the probate court.
After opening the estate for probate, the court will appoint the executor to serve in his legal capacity as administrator of the estate. The court issues letters of testamentary that provide the legal documentation necessary for the executor to represent the estate in financial activities. Interested parties may contest the validity of the will, or provisions within the will. In some cases, a written will does not exist or remains missing. Without an existing will, the court may appoint an executor and designate the division of the decedent’s assets.