When someone passes away, their estate will likely have to pass through probate before their assets can be distributed. This complex process includes everything from authenticating the will and settling disputes to inventorying the entirety of the decedent’s estate. Understanding probate law and knowing what to expect can help you avoid common mistakes, prevent conflict, and streamline the entire process during this difficult time.
What Happens During Probate?
Authenticating the Will
If the decedent left a will describing their intentions regarding their assets, probate law in most states requires a judge to authenticate the document. Typically, this occurs in a court hearing, which any of the beneficiaries may attend and enter any objections they have with the will.
Naming an Executor
At the hearing, the judge will also name the executor of the estate, who will be responsible for paying debts and following the instructions left in the will. In most cases, the court will respect the wishes of the decedent if they nominated someone in their estate plans, but if that person cannot serve or no will was written, the judge may select another family member.
Locating & Inventorying Assets
Before any assets can be distributed, the executor will have to collect, identify, and value all of the decedent’s belongings. Specifically, they will be looking for items named in the will, in addition to any valuables not mentioned in the estate plan.
The executor of an estate is responsible for ensuring that the decedent’s outstanding debts are settled before distributing assets. Sometimes, obligations can be paid out of the decedent’s bank accounts, but if there isn’t enough on hand, they may have to liquidate some of their belongings first.
Once the outstanding debts are settled, the executor may distribute any remaining assets to those mentioned in the will. In most states, probate law requires the executor to seek approval from the court, who will verify that all necessary steps have been followed first.
The Law Office of Peter A. McInish, LLC provides a full range of legal services, including civil litigation, personal injury, family law, divorce, real estate, business law, estate planning, and other areas. Pete McInish graduated from The University of Alabama in 1980 and received his J.D. in 1983 from the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University. He became a member of the Alabama State Bar in 1983 and began practicing law with the firm of Lee & McInish. To learn more about their probate law services and schedule a consultation, call (334) 671-2555 to contact their office in Dothan today.