Winding up an estate may require probate, regardless of whether the deceased left a will. Legally transferring title to a decedent's property is a process that every state addresses for its residents. Many states allow estates with no real property and only a small amount of personal property to wind up without probate, while other states usually require the appointment of a personal representative, identification of heirs or beneficiaries, publication of notice to creditors, and property inventory and appraisal before a decedent's property is finally distributed.
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Open the estate by submitting a will, if any, to the probate court in the county where the deceased lived and pay the required court fee. Any family member can open probate. Ask the probate court to appoint a personal representative to guide the estate through the probate process. Once appointed, the personal representative may be required to post a bond depending on your state's requirements. Sometimes the terms of a will may waive the bond requirement, if permitted by the jurisdiction.
Probate the estate through a simplified probate process if the estate qualifies as a small estate in your jurisdiction. Most states require that an estate not have real property and its personal property not exceed a threshold value to qualify as small, usually $50,000. The personal administrator may distribute property and close an estate once a determination is made that an estate qualifies as small.
File a briefly-worded notice in a local newspaper that the deceased's estate has entered probate and a personal administrator has been appointed. Also file a notice to creditors, again in a local newspaper, advising them to file their claims against the estate for satisfaction of any unpaid debts of the deceased. Creditors typically have six months to file claims after publication, or two months if notice is given to a creditor directly.
Research your state's requirements concerning a list of interested persons and property inventory. If required, create a list of all persons with a legal interest in the estate, such as heirs and beneficiaries. Include their contact information and file the list with the court. Create an inventory of all property and their individual appraised value. File the inventory with the court.
Create an estate accounting and disclose the financial status of the estate. Include all financial transactions conducted by the personal representative in the course of moving the estate toward closure. File the accounting with the court.
Pay all creditors. Once all debt is satisfied, distribute remaining property to the beneficiaries identified in the will, if the deceased left one. If there is no will, distribute property according to your state's "intestacy" laws. Most state intestacy laws require the surviving spouse to inherit first, then surviving children and other relatives of the deceased.
File any final tax returns, pay any required federal, state and local taxes, and close the estate. The Uniform Probate Code, followed by some states, requires a personal representative to file a closing statement to wind up the estate.