After a loved one dies, you may have many questions, not the least of which may be, “What happens now?” While you may be wondering about the course your life will take without your loved one, this question may apply more immediately to probate, the legal process that typically occurs after someone dies.
The goal of probate is to authenticate your loved one’s will, pay off any outstanding debts, verify the identity of your loved one’s heirs and distribute any assets from the estate. It can be a long and mysterious process, and you may already be feeling distraught and overwhelmed. If you are the person named to represent your loved one’s estate, you may wonder if you are up to the job.
What happens during probate?
Probate is often necessary for estates that have no will or whose owners have not taken steps to bypass probate, such as establishing trusts. The entire process may take as long as 12 months, but complications like will challenges or disputes with the executor may slow things down. If your loved one’s estate qualifies for federal taxes, you can expect a considerably longer probate. In general, probate follows these steps:
- As executor, you will gather your loved one’s will and other estate documents and apply to begin probate.
- If your loved one left no will or named no executor, the court will decide who will administer the estate.
- You or the administrator will gather the estate’s assets and documentation and keep them safe throughout the probate process.
- You will identify and notify your loved one’s creditors that he or she has died.
- You will file and pay your loved one’s final income tax returns and pay any eligible creditors in the appropriate order.
- You will distribute any remaining assets to the estate’s heirs.
Naturally, you want to handle matters in a way that will honor your loved one and abide by his or her wishes. However, this does not mean you cannot seek assistance or legal advice during probate. Making mistakes during the probate process may result in legal ramifications that you and the other heirs will have to shoulder. Since the probate laws in every state are different and may change periodically, you may benefit from the guidance of a legal professional.