What Is Probate? Discover More About the Complex Probate Process and What You Can Do

“What is probate?” you ask. On the face of it, it seems pretty simple. For probate is just the court-supervised legal process whereby a deceased person’s estate is distributed to heirs and beneficiaries and that person’s remaining debt is paid. Usually, it follows the stated directions in the decedent’s last will and testament, but if there is no will, it is carried out in accordance with state law. That seems fairly simple and straightforward, but the whole thing can be a long, legally complex process. So let’s see, then, what you’re looking at when facing probate.

What Is the Probate Process?

What is probate? That question is a little misleading because probate isn’t really a thing. It is, rather, a process with four major steps. (Keep in mind, though, that probate laws vary from state to state, and the process is more complex in some states.)

1. PETITION FILING AND NOTICE TO BENEFICIARIES

The probate process is initiated with the filing of the petition with the probate court. The aim of this filing to do one of two things: 1) admit the will to probate and appoint the executor or (2) in the case of no will, appoint an estate administrator. Typically in most states, notice of the court hearing concerning the petition has to be provided to all the decedent’s beneficiaries and heirs. This is to allow those who object to the petition to raise that objection in court.

2. NOTICE TO CREDITORS AND ESTATE INVENTORY

In the next step in the probate process, the personal representative or executor gives written notice to any creditors who may wish to make a claim against the estate’s assets. Creditors must then make a claim within the state-specified period of time.

After that, all the estate’s assets are inventoried, for example, stocks, bonds, real property, business interests, valuables, and cash. Often, an independent appraiser is hired for the purpose of arriving at an an accurate valuation of all non-cash assets.

3. PAYMENT OF EXPENSES, DEBTS, AND TAXES

After the estate’s total value has been determined by the inventory, the executor, most often in conjunction with the court, must determine which creditors’ claims are legitimate and then pay those, as well as other final bills like funeral expenses and attorney fees. Sometimes, assets like real estate must be sold in order to satisfy the decedent’s obligations.

4. DISTRIBUTION OF ASSETS TO BENEFICIARIES AND HEIRS

After the waiting period that allows creditors to file claims against the estate and after approved claims and bills are paid, the personal representative will petition the court to transfer the assets to beneficiaries in accordance with the decedent’s wishes laid out in the last will and testament. When the court grants this petition, the personal representative can then draw up new deeds for and transfer property, as well as transferring stock and liquidating other assets.

What Is the Probate Time Frame?

The American Bar Association says that, on average, the probate process takes around six to nine months after a probate case is opened with the court. It can, however, take years to reach completion if there are any disputes about the will or distribution of assets. And if, say, the will is found not to be valid or if there is no will, it can take even longer.

Below are some average probate-process times for various states:

  • California – Usually about eight months (though crowded courts may delay initial hearings for up to six weeks)
  • Florida – Typically about six months
  • Illinois – Six to 12 months on average
  • Massachusetts – Anywhere from nine months up to one to two years

Selling Probate Real Property

Many people who ask, “What is probate?” do so because they are interested in finding out about selling probate real estate. And that’s where things get even stickier. Here is just some of what it entails:

  • Appraisal to determine fair market value (usually with a probate real estate agent)
  • Court approval to list and sell the property
  • Listing for auction with a reputable, licensed auction company
  • Court approval to finalize the sale on receipt of a bid of at least 75% of recorded value

A further consideration is whether the executor has been granted independent or dependent administration rights. This matters because with dependent administration rights, there is even more court oversight, including an additional hearing called a “court confirmation hearing” and “re-marketing” of the property in some states.

An Easier, Quicker Solution

One way to expedite the process of selling a probate property is by using a reputable cash buyer who knows the ins and outs of the whole probate process. You won’t have to ask, “What is probate?” You will simply sell as-is with no commissions, you’ll get a fair offer, and you may be able to close within five days. To learn more, contact us today!

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