When a person dies, the individual leaves behind an estate. The estate is comprised of everything in which the decedent had an ownership interest in at the time of the death of the decedent. Some estates are very large, being comprised of complicated and complex assets while other estate are modest and may only include a small amount of personal property. Regardless of the size or value, however, almost everyone leaves behind some type of estate when they die. Probate is the legal process that handles passing that estate down to beneficiaries or heirs as well as ensuring that Uncle Sam receives any gift and estate taxes due on the estate.
When you die, everything you own must first be identified and located. It must then be valued. All of this will be done by the Executor of your estate. Your Executor will also need to petition the appropriate court to begin the probate of your estate. Once all estate assets have been identified and valued an inventory must be submitted to the probate court.
Next, all creditors of the estate must be notified that probate is underway. This is done personally and by publication. Creditors then have a specific period of time within which a claim against the estate must be filed. The Executor will then review those claims and pay the ones that are approved.
If anyone challenges the Last Will and Testament submitted to probate, a Will Contest may ensue. When that occurs, the entire probate process essentially grinds to a halt, awaiting the outcome of the challenge.
Assuming the challenge is unsuccessful, the Executor will eventually need to prepare and file estate taxes for the estate and pay any federal gift and estate tax due on the estate. Only after this is done can the estate assets be transferred to the intended beneficiaries or heirs of the estate.
The probate process can take months to complete when the estate is relatively modest. If the estate includes complex and numerous assets the probate process will likely takes years to complete. All the while, estate assets are inaccessible to intended beneficiaries. This is one reason probate avoidance is a popular estate planning goal. Moreover, probate can be expensive because everyone from the Executor to the estate planning attorney hired to assist must be paid a fee for their assistance and service. By avoiding probate, or at least decreasing the estate’s exposure to probate, you will save the estate money and ensure that assets are given to the intended beneficiaries
If you have additional questions or concerns about the probate process or estate planning in general, contact the experienced Conshohocken estate planning attorneys at Kuhn & Kuhn Law Firm by calling 843-577-3700 to schedule your appointment.