How Does a Probate Court Work?
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When settling an estate, whether there’s a will or not, the process will be followed through on a probate court. The probate court is the court in your community that handles the final administration of the estate of a deceased person.
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Having a basic understanding of how a probate court works is key to avoid feeling confused or intimidated by the process. Generally, to successfully navigate a probate court it is necessary to rely on the help of an estate attorney or, at the very least, being guided and directed through the right path by a probate judge and other court officials. Most executors are in the role for the first time, so professional help is usually recommended.
One of the main reasons why people need help navigating probate court is to ensure that they are carefully following all of the court’s rules. For example, to start the administration of a deceased person’s estate, it is necessary to file a will (if there is one) in probate court. However, it’s not like you can just drop the will off at the court. It is necessary to have all of the appropriate legal paperwork in place to go with it. Further, this document must be properly written to get off on the right foot with the court and avoid causing further delay in the process.
Although not all estates need to go through a probate court as a general rule, the bigger and more complex the estate is, the higher the chances of it going through probate. Generally, the more specific criteria says that if an asset with a title will need to be re-titled as a part of the process, it will need to go through probate court, which usually relates to ownership of real estate, vehicles or boats. If all of your assets are in trust, owned with a joint right of survivorship with someone who is still alive, or are in financial accounts with a designated beneficiary, you can avoid probate court most of the time. Most states also offer “small estate” options for estates with values of less than $50,000 or $100,000.
Since the laws vary from one state to another, the best way to navigate a probate court is with the help of a local probate attorney. The court itself can also provide you with guidance, so you can go request help directly at the probate court in the county where the deceased resided. If you want to avoid the probate process, the best way to do it is through sophisticated estate planning.
You also can sometimes avoid the probate process with sophisticated estate planning. However, for complex and high-value estates, things can be made more efficient and cost-effective by sticking with the probate process. It’s worth noting that the probate process it’s not fast and the court can take about a year to complete, with even the simplest estates taking at least three to four months, at a minimum. This wait can sometimes push beneficiaries to grow impatient, especially because assets cannot be distributed to heirs until the very end of the process.
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