What is probate court? We talk about it often here on the Weidner Law blog but sometimes the legal terms can get in the way. That’s why today we’re talking about probate court in non-legal terms that everyone can understand!
What is Probate Court? Understanding Probate in Non-Legal Terms
Probate is a process that many people are unfamiliar with until the time comes that they have to deal with it themselves. This leads to a desperate scramble to find information to understand the new duties thrust upon them when probate does crop up. Today we’re going to help you to prepare a little more for when or if probate touches your life by explaining things in simpler terms.
The Concept of Probate
Let’s begin by taking a look at what probate is and what it does.
When someone dies, they leave behind an “estate”. This estate is made up of things that were owned by that person, for example, a home, personal possessions, sentimental items, etc.
Probatable Vs. Non-Probatable Assets
The items that make up that estate fall into two different categories. There are items that are left to specific individuals by law, for example, life insurance proceeds must go to the beneficiary named on the life insurance policy. Then there are items that are to go to beneficiaries in accordance with the will of the person who is deceased. Items that fall into the first category are called “non-probatable assets” because the law dictates who where those items go. Assets that are not governed by the law are called “probatable assets”.
What Happens to Probatable Assets?
Probatable assets must go through a court process that we call “probate”. The purpose of probate is to take the probatable assets owned by the deceased person and to transfer those assets to the beneficiaries and heirs of that person. For example, if a will states that Mary gets mom’s diamond necklace, it is the job of the court to make sure that Mary gets that necklace.
Why is Probate Necessary?
If someone leaves a will that designates who gets what, why is probate necessary?
Firstly, not everyone has a will in place when they die. When this happens (we say that this person has died “intestate”) it is up to the court to distribute the assets of the deceased person among family and heirs who are left behind. In this instance, assets are distributed according to state laws pertaining to succession. Usually, this means that assets are transferred to a spouse or children of the deceased person.
Secondly, even if someone has a will in place, it doesn’t necessarily mean that that will is valid. For example, if Uncle Lonnie had a mental illness and wrote his will while suffering from a mental illness, he may have left his assets to the President believing that he was best friends with the President. Now, uncle Lonnie is not best friends with the President, in fact, he has never even met him. In this instance, it’s obvious that Uncle Lonnie was incapable of creating a valid will due to his mental state being compromised, so it is the job of the court to prove that Uncle Lonnie’s will is not valid under the law and then to distribute Uncle Lonnie’s assets according to state law.
Thirdly, even when someone has a will and bequeaths an asset to a specific person, that asset needs to be transferred to that person. For example, Aunt Sarah had an old Cadillac and she left it to her niece, Jane. In order for Jane to actually own that Cadillac, the title of the car must be in Jane’s name.
Fourthly, when someone dies, there are loose ends that need tying up. For example, a final federal tax return must be filed. Probate oversees this and ensures that it gets done properly by the executor of the will – someone designated by the deceased person to take care of their affairs after their death OR someone appointed to this duty by the court.
Lastly, sometimes when a person dies and their assets are left to multiple people, those assets must be sold and the proceeds distributed among the people listed as beneficiaries. This is a process that is also overseen by the probate court.
The Job of Probate Court
So, it is the job of probate court to perform a number of duties:
- To carry out the wishes of the deceased person
- To identify when the deceased person was taken advantage of or pressured to create a will with specific beneficiaries
- To distribute assets of a deceased person when they did not leave a will
- To ensure that loose ends are tied for the deceased person
- To sell assets and distribute proceeds among beneficiaries.
Essentially, it is a probate court’s job to tie everything up in a neat little package so that the deceased person has no outstanding business and that their final wishes are carried out.
What is Probate Court? Have More Questions About Probate Court?
If you have more unanswered questions about probate court or if you are seeking an attorney to help you through the probate process in and around St. Pete, Florida, Weidner Law can help. To make an appointment for your consultation just call us today at 727-954-8752!