When you die, your last will goes through a process known as probate. Probate is the process of ensuring your will is valid and carrying out the instructions in your will. It is supervised by the state's probate court, and is usually carried out by your executor or personal representative, according to FindLaw. The probate process includes several steps.
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Opening the Probate Estate
The process of carrying out the instructions in your will begins with the opening of the probate estate. In most states, the probate estate opens when your executor or the person who has your will files it with the probate court. At the same time, your executor may request letters testamentary from the court, which give him the power to handle your accounts, talk to your attorney or accountant, and do other things necessary to probate your estate, according to the American Bar Association.
Inventorying Your Estate
In most states, your executor is required to prepare a written inventory of the estate, listing all the assets you have and what they are worth. This inventory is usually filed with the probate court and sent to the beneficiaries listed in your will. You may be able to speed up the probate of your estate and help your executor by keeping an inventory yourself, or by providing a list of your major assets, their value and the contact information of people your executor may need to speak to in order to assess the value of your assets, such as your accountant, financial advisor or a professional appraiser.
The executor is responsible for paying the final debts your estate owes. Although you may have no major debts when you die, a few bills will remain, such as the medical bills related to your last illness, and your funeral and burial expenses. Your executor pays these with money from your estate, and is usually allowed to access your estate's bank accounts or create a bank account in order to do so, according to the American Bar Association. If you wish to keep certain assets out of the pool of funds available to pay your last debts, you may wish to consult an attorney on how to keep these assets out of probate. Creating a trust or a joint bank account are examples of ways to ensure your assets pass outside probate.
Once the bills are paid and the time limit for creditors to make claims has passed, in most states the executor's only remaining duty is to distribute the remaining assets according to the instructions in your will. Although the probate process is relatively short for small or uncomplicated estates, you can ensure your family has money to live on while probate goes on by leaving some assets that pass outside probate, such as life insurance benefits, directly to your beneficiaries. An attorney can help you learn how to provide immediate assets for your family's use when you die.
References & Resources
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