Probate is the process of fulfilling a will after the death of the writer. Probate can also refer to a court procedure that determines the validity of the deceased's will after the named or appointed executor completes tasks such as gathering assets, paying debts, fees and taxes and distributing remaining assets. The probate court supervises the entire proceeding to ensure that probate laws and procedures are followed and officially appoints an executor to carry out the necessary tasks.
Locate and File Will
After death, family members, friends or other individuals locate the decedent's will. If the will names an executor to carry out the probate proceedings, that individual then files the will and a petition naming the decedent in probate court. A probate hearing is held to officially open the case, appoint the executor, assign the estate's federal tax identification number (in accordance with state law) and begin the distribution of assets. If a will specifies that a bond is needed to legally secure assets, the executor files the bond with the court during the opening procedures. Most named or appointed executors hire an attorney before or during the opening process, although it is not required by law.
Search for Assets and Prepare Inventory
Once the probate process has begun, the executor searches for all of the decedent's assets. The assets can include bank accounts, retirement investments, stocks, real estate, personal property, bonds and other financial instruments. The executor then creates an inventory of the items that includes the value of the property at the time of death. The executor transfers financial assets to the name of the estate, contacting the appropriate investment firms or insurance companies to do so. The executor may also choose to reinvest the money under state law guidelines.
As the executor examines the estate's assets, he also needs to determine the estate's liabilities. it is the executor's responsibility to notify creditors of the death of the writer. The executor should monitor the decedent's mail for statements on monies owed and review records of outstanding bills or liabilities. Once the assets and liabilities have been determined, the executor typically opens a checking account for the estate and liquidates assets as necessary to pay debts, taxes, costs and fees. After she determines the net value of the estate, the executor files a final tax return on behalf of the decedent.
Distribute Assets and Establish Trusts
Once the executor determines the net value of the estate, he distributes the balance of the assets or property as specified in the will. If an endowment or trust is requested, then the executor must make the necessary arrangements. Depending on the age of the beneficiaries or state law, the executor may also need to establish trusts for individuals. The executor obtains receipts and signatures for all gifts and documents each distribution.
After the executor performs all of the necessary duties, a probate hearing is held to close the estate. The executor files all paperwork and presents receipts. The court declares the estate officially closed and discharges the executor from his duties.