Most people know that having a will is important. It allows you to express how you would like your assets handled after your death, and can include important information regarding the custody of any surviving children. Nevertheless, many people do not understand how a will is executed.
After you pass on, your will is managed through a local probate court. Consequently, many are not prepared for what’s ahead. Here is an introduction to the probate process and how it works.
1. Your Executor Takes Charge
As part of your will, you should have identified an executor. Your executor files all necessary paperwork with the probate court. Moreover, according to Steve Bliss, a probate attorney, “the executor will provide the court with information regarding your current debts and assets, and your instructions regarding who should inherit certain property.”
Accordingly, once the filings are complete, official notification of your death will be released to all interested parties. The executor locates and secures all of the included properties, and manages all assets throughout this process. Conversely, they will also determine if any assets should be sold to cover any remaining debts.
2. Short Term Support Requests
Depending on the state, your immediate family members may have the right to request funds from your assets to support their basic needs. For example, funds may be made available to provide basic support for your children, such as food and housing. The court makes decisions regarding these requests alone, and requests can be denied.
3. A Mandatory Waiting Period
Ordinarily, your assets cannot be provided to your heirs until the court releases the executor to do so. This waiting period ensures all of your final bills, such as remaining debts and funeral expenses, have been paid before any property is distributed. Even once all debts are settled, additional time is required to provide any creditors, whom the executor may not have been aware, have the opportunity to make a claim against the estate.
4. Completing the Process
Only after all of these requirements are met can your assets be distributed to your heirs. Consequently, the executor will then take any necessary steps to legally transfer the property to the designated heir. Any payments or donations made to charitable organizations are also managed by the executor. Once the entire process is complete, the court releases the executor from their duties.
The total amount of time required may vary even when everything works smoothly. It is not uncommon for the probate process to take close to one year under the best of circumstances. If the will is contested, or if the estate is particularly complex, it can take much longer to finish.
5. Contested Wills
A will may be contested if it is impossible that the will is not completely valid. This can include issues regarding how the document was completed, whether the person who created the will did so while under undue influence, or if the person may not have been of sound mind when it was created. If the will is contested, then the court will need to render a decision regarding the validity of the will, and if any other party has a reasonable claim to the assets. Depending on the state, a jury trial may even occur.
A contested will can take a very long time to complete the probate process. If the will is rendered invalid, then arguments may occur regarding who should receive which assets.
Can Probate Be Avoided?
If you want to avoid your will going through the probate process, it is wise to consider placing your assets in a living trust. Once part of the trust, the assets are legally no longer your property. Instead, the assets are owned by the trust, and you function as the trustee. This allows you to manage the assets as you see fit. You can designate a person to assume the position of trustee upon your death, allowing them to take immediate control of all of the assets within the trust. Unlike assets in a will, the assets in a trust are not subject to the probate process.