Probate is the legal process by which the estate of a deceased person is settled. Regardless if someone dies with or without a will, probate is generally required when a person dies owning assets that do not have either a co-owner or a named beneficiary. Probate administration generally involves identifying the probate assets of the decedent, paying the decedent’s debts, taxes and other expenses, then distributing the remaining assets to the devisees or heirs. If a person dies having left a valid will - called “testate”- the person nominated in the will as personal representative is responsible for the probate administration. If the decedent did not have a valid will - called “intestate” - often a family member will be appointed as personal representative by the probate court.
Although each probate administration is different, generally the informal probate process - the probate process requiring no court hearings - is summarized as follows:
An Application for Informal Probate and Appointment of Personal Representative is filed with the probate court along with a copy of the death certificate, the Last Will and Testament and a $175.00 filing fee. If there is no will, then ordinarily an heir of the decedent will seek the appointment as personal representative.
Obtain an Employment Identification Number (EIN) for the estate.
Publish a Notice to Creditors in the local legal newspaper to notify creditors that they have four months to make a claim against the estate.
Identify all of the assets of the decedent and prepare an Inventory to be filed with the probate court along with an Inventory fee.
Pay all allowances, expenses, debts and valid claims of the decedent’s estate.
File state and federal tax returns for the decedent. Depending on the income and dividends earned during the estate administration, an income tax return may need to be filed for the estate.
Distribute the estate assets to the devisees if there is a will or to the decedent’s heirs if there is not a will. In most cases, the personal representative will not distribute assets until the four month period has ended for creditor claims.
Prepare a final account. The personal representative must prepare and distribute to the interested parties a final accounting listing all the income earned by the estate and all estate expenses and distributions.
Close the estate. Once the probate administration is complete, the personal representative can file with the probate court a Sworn Statement to Close Unsupervised Administration and send a copy to the interested parties. Generally this cannot be done until at least 5 months have passed from the opening of the probate estate. Assuming none of the interested parties object to the estate closing, after 30 days the probate court will issue a Certificate of Completion.