When a person passes away, their Will (sometimes called the Last Will or Testament) is submitted to the Probate Court in the county where they resided. A Will is, in fact, a legal document that guides the Probate Court. It determines who the decedent trusted to carry out their Will (the Personal Representative), it identifies the people the decedent considered their descendants (the Heirs), it names the people or charities the descendant wishes to leave assets to (the Beneficiaries). It sometimes includes special instructions for specific property or people. A Will frequently contains the personal representative’s most basic responsibilities (gather the property, pay the expenses, distribute the assets) and then defers to legally imposed obligations found in the statutes and common law of the State where the Will is administered.
The Personal Representative files the Will, presents the Court with an official death certificate, and pays the filing fees to begin Probate. The Personal Representative has no further authority or capabilities until the Probate Court receives the Will and grants formal authorization to the Personal Representative. The Court gives a personal representative’s power to perform tasks through the letter of administration. These are known as domiciliary letters. Thanks to the Domiciliary Letters, the Personal Representative may now transact business on behalf of the estate, including accessing financial accounts, gathering assets, and dealing with the descendant’s business and real estate interests. Accounts are frozen until the Probate process begins and the Court issues these empowering letters.
The Personal Representative evaluates and files an inventory with the Court so that all interested parties can see how much the estate is worth in whole light. They may also question if the inventory is thorough or whether additional valuables have been overlooked. The announcement of the Probate being filed is made in the news, revealing a deadline for submitting claims against the estate. The Personal Representative is obliged to notify known creditors of the estate without delay. The rights of creditors and claimants are defined by state legislation, which regulates how claims are submitted and how the Personal Representative may object to any claim.
Once all of the creditor claims have been handled and all tax clearances obtained, the Personal Representative submits an accounting of the estate to the Court. All revenue and costs are itemized, as are capital gains and losses. The Personal Representative presents a plan of proposed disbursements to the Court, as outlined in the Will. All of the beneficiaries have the option of objecting to any item mentioned in these petitions and appearing before the Court at any time. A judge decides if any objection has merit. After all distributions have been completed, the Personal Representative files a motion to terminate and be released from fiduciary duties as administrator of the estate. At this point, receipts for payments are submitted to the Court. The Probate Court oversees the entire Probate process and reviews all documentation. It sets deadlines for completion for various intervals,P and it steps in when petitioned to settle disputes.
Bob is a Certified Estate Planning Specialist and an Accredited Estate Planner by the National Association of Estate Planners.
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