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A primer on the probate process

People who talk about estate planning often talk about the probate process. Generally speaking, the probate process is one where a court appoints someone to administer an estate after an individual’s passing. This representative is then responsible for paying estate debts and ensuring that estate assets are distributed properly.

There are different types of probate. The first is informal probate. This type can only be initiated by certain individuals, including a deceased individual’s spouse, adult child, heir or even a creditor, amongst others. Through informal probate, estate matters are handled relatively easily because there are no disputes as to who will inherit assets and how debts will be paid. Because there is little or no conflict, the court takes a back seat in these proceedings.

Formal probate is a different story. Here, multiple hearings will be held in probate court to hash out issues related to the estate. These hearing often deal with the contest of wills and trusts, the identification of heirs to an estate, and the handling of complicated assets that require some sort of court supervision. These hearings can be hotly contested and require extensive litigation. The outcome of these hearings can have a profound impact on an estate’s future, as well as the future of heirs and beneficiaries.

The probate process can either be supervised or unsupervised. Under supervised probate, the court handles all estate matters such as opening an estate, appointing a representative, and taking statements from creditors. Unsupervised probate typically occurs when loved ones can manage the estate and the probate process on their own.

Many people want to avoid probate altogether, primarily because they envision the contested and contentious formal probate process. This type can be lengthy and expensive, but sometimes necessary. In order to avoid fights over an estate and its assets, though, those engaging in estate planning should work with a competent attorney who can help them create clear and legally valid legal documents. If, for whatever reason, issues arise and claims against an estate are made, a skilled lawyer may be able to help an individual and an estate find a resolution that is fair and favorable. Therefore, if you need assistance with any aspect of estate planning or estate administration, please continue to research what our firm has to offer.