Before an executor is officially appointed, certain preliminary procedures are generally required. Although state laws may vary, probate courts typically have uniform requirements that must be followed before an estate is administered. Some of these requirements are merely precursors to beginning probate procedures. Nevertheless, petitions, filings and admittance of the decedent's will are just some of the first steps in the process.
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Admitting the Will
One of the very first steps in the probate process involves admitting the deceased's will to the probate court. Generally, the person admitting the will must also file a certificate of death so the court may verify the death of the decedent. The probate court then examines the will to ensure it complied with the required formalities. For example, the probate court will determine whether the will was signed by the will maker, or testator, witnessed by third parties and clearly reflects the testator's intent. Once the will is declared valid -- meaning it followed the state's statutory requirements -- the probate court will then consider appointing the executor named in the will, also known as the "personal representative" in some states.
Obtaining Letters Testamentary
Once a probate court officially accepts the executor as administrator of the estate, the executor must obtain "letters testamentary." These letters are important as the administration of the estate cannot begin without them. This is because letters testamentary give the executor the authority to manage the decedent's estate and assets, including paying creditors and making cash withdrawals from the decedent's bank accounts.
Notice to Beneficiaries and Creditors
Once an executor receives his letters testamentary, he must notify all beneficiaries named in the will -- usually by certified mail -- that probate proceedings are going to commence. Moreover, an executor typically must publish notice of probate in a newspaper in the county where the decedent died. This places creditors on notice so they may submit claims to the probate court once probate proceedings are underway. After probate begins, the executor may pay the approved claims of creditors using estate funds.
Sometimes, before an estate's administration gets underway, the executor must provide a bond. Probate bonds are simply a means to protect the executor from certain types of liability, such as paying unapproved creditor's claims. Not all executors must provide a bond. In fact, it is not unusual for a testator to include a statement of bond waiver in his last will and testament.