When someone dies, their estate will need to go through the probate process before their property can be transferred to living beneficiaries or family members. The probate process can be complicated and time-consuming, so knowing what to expect can be helpful.
Opening the estate
One of the first steps is to determine whether the deceased left behind a will. If a will is located, then the next step is to file it with the state probate court and open the estate. This is usually done by the executor, a person named in the will to carry out its terms.
Alternatively, if a person dies without a will they are said to have died intestate. This means that state laws dictate how their assets are to be distributed. In such a scenario, any family member or friend of the deceased can apply to open the estate with the court. The court will then appoint an administrator to manage the estate, comparable to an executor.
Identifying the assets
Once the court recognizes or appoints an executor or administrator, then that person can begin to identify all relevant assets. Certain assets will be easily identifiable, like any furniture or artwork. Contrarily, the identification of other assets, such as bank account statements, stock certificates, car titles, and deeds, will require shifting through all of the decedent’s personal papers.
After they are identified, the assets must be valued. Again, certain assets, will be easy to value, such as the balance of bank accounts. But assets such as jeweler, artwork, or even a home, might require someone to professionally value them.
Paying taxes and final bills.
Before anything can pass to the beneficiaries, the executor must pay all income and estate taxes, as well as any final bills. Expected expenses will include mortgage payments, utilities bills, insurance premiums, and legal fees.
Lastly, after the executor submits a detailed financial record of all transactions made on behalf of the estate, and assuming all creditors are paid, the remaining assets will be distributed to beneficiaries as prescribed by the will, or if there was no will, then to immediate family members in accordance with state law.