Probate & Estate Administration
To some, the mere mention of the word “probate” evokes bewilderment and dread. It need not be that way. One of the things that I work very hard at is to demystify estate law by explaining it in terms that people can understand. Take probate, for instance. Probate is the process of have a deceased person’s will properly registered at the appropriate courthouse. If the person died without a will, the family usually will register with the court a document setting forth who survived the deceased. For many families, that might very well be the end of it.
Estate administration takes place when there is money or property that has to be distributed and that distribution process requires court oversight. In those instances, a person appointed by the will or the court (“personal representative” in legal speak) will be given the authority to take control of the deceased’s property. After that, an inventory is prepared which itemizes the deceased’s property. If the deceased person’s assets are sufficient to pay creditors, bills are paid. (If not, state law states which creditors take priority). After the time allowed for creditors to assert claims has passed, the person administering the estate can distribute money and property according to the deceased’s will or the state’s laws of distribution if the person died without a will. The personal representative will then prepare a document detailing how all the money and property was distributed.
Sometimes there are issues that require the assistance of an attorney. In my experience, a person of reasonable intelligence who pays attention to detail can handle the estate administration just fine. However, if the deceased person’s family would prefer not to deal with it for whatever reason, a lawyer can help. Be sure to choose one that will keep family members informed of actions taken and use language that regular people can understand.