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What can you expect from the probate process?

Many people in Maryland and across the country do not know what the probate process entails for settling an estate until they have to do it themselves. Whether you recently took on the role of an estate executor or you want to better tailor your estate plan to address the various tasks of probate, you want to learn more about it.

First, not every estate has to go through probate. If a person dies without creating a will, estate administration will take place rather than probate proceedings. The processes are similar, but, because intestate laws will determine asset distribution and other matters, they do differ. Additionally, specific state laws may exempt an estate from probate.

What does it entail?

If you must handle probate or believe that your estate will require the process, you may want to know what will happen. Typically, the following steps occur when closing an estate through probate:

  • First, the court will have to validate the will. The executor should file the document with the court, which will then review the document for authentication purposes.
  • After the court deems the document valid, it will approve or appoint an executor. If the will contained an appointed person, the court will determine whether that person suits the role or whether someone else should take the position.
  • The executor will then need to locate and protect the decedent's assets. Hopefully, the testator and the executor will have discussed these matters beforehand so that finding assets is not a challenge.
  • The executor may also need to determine the values of certain assets, which can require obtaining the services of a professional appraiser.
  • The decedent's creditors will need notifying of the death so that they can make a claim against the estate for outstanding payment if necessary.
  • If creditors do have valid claims, the executor will use estate funds to pay those claims.
  • It is also necessary for the executor to file a final tax return on behalf of the decedent.
  • At the end of the process, the executor can then petition the court for approval to distribute the remaining assets of the estate to the intended heirs or beneficiaries before closing the estate.

While these steps may seem relatively straightforward, any estate could see complications. For example, a beneficiary may feel the need to challenge the will, or some outdated information in the estate plan could cause other complications. Because of these possibilities and because of the serious issues that could arise from mistakes made during probate, it is wise to work with an experienced attorney.

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