What is probate? It’s how almost all estates are handled in this country. When a person dies, his or her assets and debts are gathered up. The debts are paid and the remaining property is divided according to the decedent’s will. Without one, the state decides how the estate PROBABLY would have been divided. Instead of letting the state divide your property, draft a will or other estate plan so everybody knows what you want!

The length of time it takes to probate an estate is dependent upon the assets and debts in the estate. Also how well the heirs get along during the pendency of the matter. It behooves you to TELL your heirs (children or close friends) what is in your estate and who is getting it. An heir typically can’t get money until the estate is fully probated. The more difficult that heir is, the longer the probate usually takes. It’s important for any heir to know this.

Never assume!

One example comes to mind – a childhood friend that lost her father. It was not an unexpected death as he had cancer, but she was heartbroken none-the-less. After the emotions had settled it was time to figure out what to do next with his belongings. She wanted a roll top desk that her father had owned for many years but her father’s wife didn’t want to give her the desk. She was upset and she wanted to start a probate action so she could MAKE her step-mother give her the desk.

I told her that if she commenced a probate action for her father’s estate, she would have to give all interested parties her address and telephone number. This is provided so they could contact her with questions or issues. She didn’t like that because she didn’t want her father’s older children knowing where she lived. She also didn’t want her step-mother to know about the probate. Well, her father and step-mother had owned their home and other assets jointly. My friend was not likely to “get” something from the estate without the step-mother finding out. I talked her out of filing a probate because she was unlikely to get the one item she wanted. The roll top desk was not an item that was worth a lot of money, but it was one that my friend thought would have reminded her of her father.

Start planning today!

My suggestion is to TELL your parent or loved one how you feel about a particular item… before that person is ill. These are tough questions without easy answers.

Outside of the drama that can be involved, it’s fairly standard as far as process. Forms, numbers, and a couple of extra forms, that’s all it takes for peace of mind. It’s not all that fun, but it’s the best any state can do to transfer property from the decedent (dead person) to his or her heirs.

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