Most non-probate attorneys have little experience with the often Byzantine legal world that is probate law. Even if you’ve heard of probate before, you’re probably not exactly sure what it does or why it exists. Essentially, probate is the process where a deceased person’s property gets transferred to new owners. While probate doesn’t cover all property a person leaves behind, the probate process is basically the same wherever you live.
Stage 1: Beginning a Case
Probate starts after a person dies. A friend, family member, or other representative of the deceased person will have to go to the county probate court and ask the court to open a new case. Once the case is opened, a probate court judge will determine who should serve as the estate administrator. That person will then receive official recognition as the administrator and can begin the estate settlement process.
Stage 2: Inventory and Management
The administrator is the person who is primarily responsible for handling the probate case, while the court acts to decide any conflicts and ensure the administrator is acting properly. One of the first steps an administrator must take is to find out exactly what the deceased person owned. This is known as an inventory or an accounting. Once the inventory is finished, the administrator will determine who should receive the property.
Stage 3: Transferring Property
The administrator will generally first pay any of the creditors who were owed money by the deceased person. After that, the property will go to the legal inheritors. These are identified either by the deceased person’s last will and testament or by state law. After all the property is distributed, the administrator asks the court to close the case.