Probate is the court process of administering an estate after the death of a loved one. This process may include determining the validity of a last will and testament, appointing an executor, settling disputes, and overseeing the proper fulfillment of your loved one's wishes.
Alternatively, if the decedent did not leave a last will and testament, the court will appoint an administrator. The appointed party is responsible for collecting and overseeing the distribution of the estate according to state law.
Is Probate the Right Option?
Before you make your decision, you should figure out if probate is right for you and your family. When considering your options, take the following steps:
- Determine if the decedent left a will.
- Compile a list of potential heirs, including parents, spouses, children, grandchildren, and siblings. Notate full names, addresses, and contact information for each person.
- Determine what assets the decedent held, including property, bank and investment accounts, businesses, IRAs, insurance policies, or a 401(k). Once you've tracked down these assets, be sure to collect any legal documents such as deeds, title insurance policies, beneficiary statements, or business agreements. For a comprehensive look at your loved one's assets, Mr. Levanti recommends reviewing income tax returns.
- Write up a list of the decedent's debts, including any mortgages, lines of credit, credit cards, and utility bills. Usually, the best way to determine creditors of the deceased is by collecting the mail and checking for bills or invoices.