Since the COVID-19 pandemic, most “informal” probate proceedings are now being held via virtual “Zoom” hearings or by telephone. While no two situations are alike, we generally follow the following steps whenever a probate court proceeding is needed:
- We generally schedule an initial zoom meeting or conference call with the family members who are interested and able to attend, including the named personal representative.
- We will need to obtain the death certificate, in all cases, as well as the original Will, if any, as well as a Trust Agreement, if any. If your loved one did not have an estate plan, we can still assist you with the administration of their estate through a probate process called intestacy.
- In addition, please complete and bring the Probate Information Form, which we will provide to you during our first meeting.
- You will need to gather financial information, including bank account statements, retirement account statements, life insurance, outstanding medical bills or other debts, real estate tax statements, and the most recent income tax return.
- After analyzing the estate assets and determining that a probate proceeding is needed, we will prepare the documents to file with the Court. In addition, it will be necessary to put together an inventory of all estate assets noting the date-of-death value of each. This information will be needed for tax purposes.
- Upon the Court’s receipt of the documents, they will open a file and issue a Notice of Informal Probate, Appointment of Personal Representative and Notice to Creditors. This Notice will be mailed to all interested parties and published in a legal newspaper for two weeks.
- We will prepare a Notice to Commissioner of Human Services as required by law to notify them of the probate proceeding. If there are any medical assistance claims, they will file a claim in the probate court, as well as send it to us.
- After the publication is complete, the Court will either issue Letters Testamentary (if there was a Will) or Letters of General Administration (if there was not a will), which will give the Personal Representative the legal authority to act on behalf of the estate to complete all administrative duties, including consolidation of all assets into one account, and to sell any real estate.
- Once the Letters have been issued, we will provide you with a tax identification number for the estate and request certified copies of the Letters from the court. These two items will be needed to open an estate checking account. As assets are liquidated, they should be deposited into the estate account.
- As funds become available, the Personal Representative is responsible for payment of all debts of Decedent, including medical expenses, funeral expenses, taxes and any other known creditors. A final federal and state tax return will need to be filed on behalf of the decedent.
- After all the assets are liquidated and debts paid, the personal representative should prepare a final accounting of the estate administration.
- Copies of the accounting are sent to all beneficiaries with their distribution checks pursuant to the terms of the Will or intestate succession.
- When the distributions are complete, and receipts returned, we will prepare a Closing Statement to file with the Court so they can close their file.
In situations where there is a dispute as to the validity of a Will, the validity of a debt, or the debts exceed the assets, it may be necessary to proceed with a “formal” probate hearing, which generally does require an in-person court hearing. This summary is just a brief and general overview of the informal probate process. Regardless of your situation, we will be happy to assist you as needed and guide you through the process so as to make it as stress free as possible.