If you are new to the concept of probate, you have undoubtedly been searching for a probate guide to make the process much easier. As a top probate attorney in St Petersburg, Florida, Matt Weidner with Weidner Law knows that the probate process can be exceptionally difficult to understand (especially as someone who is grieving), so he took the initiative to put together a quick probate guide to get you started and to help you understand what is happening.
Understanding The Probate Process
Probate is a process that proves the will of a deceased person in court. Once the will has been accepted as a public document and the valid last will and testament of the deceased, the estate of the deceased is then settled by carrying out the wishes outlined in the last will and testament, settling creditor accounts and paying debtors, and distributing the remaining estate assets among rightful heirs. Once the estate of the deceased has been settled, and the assets of the estate have been distributed, the estate is then finalized.
Probate Guide: Step One – Authenticating the Last Will and Testament
The first step in the probate process is for the last will and testament to be submitted to the probate court and an application to begin probate is filled out and filed.
There is then a hearing scheduled in which a judge confirms that the last will and testament that was filed is, in fact, a valid document. This is usually proven valid by the presence of a signed affidavit that is created by the deceased at the time that their will is signed and it is signed by both the deceased and a witness.
Notice of this first hearing must be provided to those who are beneficiaries of the last will and testament and to any heirs of the deceased even if they are not named in the will. The purpose of this hearing is not only for a judge to determine whether a last will and testament is a valid document, but it also allows anyone who may be involved with the estate to contest the validity of the will that has been submitted.
Probate Guide: Appointing an Estate Executor
During the first probate hearing in which the validity of the last will and testament is proven, the judge will also appoint an estate executor – this is the person who will take charge of the estate and carry out the administration of the estate.
Often, the deceased will have appointed an executor of their estate in their will. If an executor of the estate is not named in the will of the deceased, this duty is appointed by the judge to the next of kin.
Once an estate executor has been appointed by the probate court, this individual will be given “letters of authority” (also referred to as “letters of administration” or “letters testamentary”). This authenticates the fact that the estate executor is then permitted to carry out transactions on behalf of the estate of the deceased.
Probate Guide: Bond
When we hear the word “bond” we most often think about paying an amount of money to have someone released from jail pending their trial and this is a similar type of thing. In short, a bond is a type of insurance policy. Bond is paid and if the promise made with the bond is not carried out, the bond is then retained.
In the case of probate, the executor of an estate may be required to pay a bond before they receive their letters of authority. The purpose of this is to insure the estate of the deceased should the executor of the estate make an error during the probate process that ends up costing the estate. Whether this error is intentional or unintentional, the bond is then used to reimburse the estate of the deceased and the beneficiaries of the estate.
Depending on the state in which the probate process takes place, the beneficiaries of the estate of the deceased can all decide to waive the need for bond for the executor of the estate. In some states, however, the executor of the estate MUST pay this bond.
Probate Guide: The Executor of the Estate Must Locate the Estate Assets
Once the court hearing has completed, the executor of the estate must then find and take possession of all of the estate’s assets. This is to ensure that the assets are protected during the probate process, but it also makes it easier for the executor of the will to distribute these assets when the time comes.
Discovering assets of the deceased requires legwork since not all assets are listed in a last will and testament. The most efficient way for an executor of an estate to find out about estate assets is to look over financial records, stored paperwork, insurance documents, and tax filings.
If the deceased owned a home or real estate property at the time of their death, it is up to the executor of the estate to ensure that taxes are kept up to date and the property is well maintained until the distribution of assets takes place.
Probate Guide: Date of Death Values
Once the executor of the estate has gathered a complete record of the assets of the deceased, depending on the location of the probate court, they may be required to submit a copy of what is called the “Date of Death Values”, that is a written record of everything owned by the deceased at the time of their death as well as an approximate value for those items and how that amount was ascertained.
In Part Two…
Today we looked at the beginning of the probate process including how to get the probate process started and appointing the executor of the estate. In part two, we will take a look at further responsibilities of the executor of the estate and how distribution of assets takes place. Stay tuned!
Need More Than a Probate Guide?
If you need more than a quick guide to help you through the probate process and you live in the St. Petes, Florida area, Weidner Law would be happy to help! Call 727-954-8752 today to see how Attorney Matt Weidner can help you!