How to Start Probate: A 12-Step Guide
Losing a loved one is difficult. Settling their estate through probate can add extra stress. This 12-step guide breaks down the probate process to make it more manageable.
- Step 1: Locate the Original Will: The first step is finding the deceased's original will, not a copy, which states who inherits their assets. The probate court requires the original document. Check filing cabinets, desks, and safe deposit boxes. If you can't locate the original will, check with lawyers, accountants, or the local probate court.
- Step 2: Get Death Certificates: You'll need several certified death certificates as proof of death. Order at least 10 copies from the mortuary or vital records department.
- Step 3: Gather Documents: Collect important paperwork like insurance policies, bank statements, appraisals, property inventories, tax returns, and stock/bond info. Organize everything in labeled folders.
- Step 4: Determine if Probate is Necessary: Sometimes you can avoid formal probate if assets are below $100k or were transferred outside probate (like jointly owned property or accounts with beneficiaries).
- Step 5: Choose Simple or Formal Probate: Most states offer an expedited "summary administration" process for smaller estates. Check your state's limit. Use formal probate for complicated or high-value estates.
- Step 6: Check State Probate Deadlines: Some states require probate within 3-4 years of death. Simple probate may have a shorter deadline. Verify your state's laws.
- Step 7: Understand the Court Appoints an Executor: Courts usually honor the executor named in the will. Without a will, state law determines priority. Family can also petition to start probate.
- Step 8: Petition the Court to Name an Executor: File the will, death certificate, and application with the court to name an executor. They administer the estate and appear in court.
- Step 9: Attend the First Hearing: At the initial hearing, interested parties can object to the executor appointment. This is usually just a formality.
- Step 10: Send Notices to Creditors and Heirs: The executor must notify creditors and beneficiaries of probate. Publish a notice in the local newspaper for unknown creditors.
- Step 11: Post a Bond if Required: The court may require the executor to get an insurance policy to protect heirs from losses. This can often be waived.
- Step 12: Validate the Will: Witness statements or affidavits prove the will is valid. This must happen before assets are distributed.
The probate process takes time, but following these steps helps it go smoothly. Let us know if you need probate assistance!