Most people will be involved in the probate of an estate at some time during their life. Your involvement may be the result of overseeing the administration of an estate or as the beneficiary of an estate. In both instances, knowledge of the probate process is beneficial. It is also beneficial to understand the probate process to help you create your own estate plan. With that in mind, the Oklahoma City probate attorneys at Parman & Easterday discuss some common steps in the probate process.
What Is Probate?
When a person dies, he or she leaves behind an estate consisting of all assets owned by the decedent at the time of death, including both tangle and intangible assets, as well as real and personal property. Those assets need to be transferred to the beneficiaries and heirs of the estate, but first creditors of the estate need the opportunity to file claims, and taxes must be paid to the state and federal government. All of this occurs during the probate process.
Common Steps in the Probate of An Estate
Because every estate is as unique as the owner of the estate, the probate process is never exactly the same for any two estates. Nevertheless, there are some common steps in the probate process, including:
- Identifying, locating and valuing estate assets – as soon as possible after the decedent’s death, an inventory must be completed of the decedent’s assets, including both tangible and intangible assets. Assets must also be secured which may mean closing financial accounts or locking up real property. A date of death value must be obtained for all estate assets. For some assets, this may require the assistance of an appraiser.
- Identifying probate assets — not all assets are required to go through probate. Assets that bypass the probate process include assets held in a trust, proceeds of a life insurance policy, accounts passing by beneficiary designation, and jointly held property.
- Petitioning the court to open probate – to initiate probate, the Executor (often called a Personal Representative) must submit the original copy of the decedent’s Last Will and Testament to the probate court. The Will must be accompanied by a petition to open probate and a certified copy of the decedent’s death certificate.
- Notifying creditors – known creditors are notified directly. Unknown creditors of the estate are notified by publishing the notice of probate in a local newspaper.
- Identifying, locating, and notifying beneficiaries and/or heirs — if the decedent left a Will and/or a Trust, the beneficiaries named in the Will or Trust must be notified. In an intestate estate administration without a Will or Trust, an Administrator is appointed, the legal heirs of the estate are determined by the court, and then they are notified.
- Approving or denying creditor claims — all claims filed by creditors must be evaluated by the Executor (or Personal Representative) and approved or denied. Approved claims must be paid, in the order of priority set by the State, using available assets.
- Liquidating assets — sometimes an estate lacks sufficient funds to pay all creditors. In that case, the Executor/PR must sell estate assets to raise the funds needed to pay the debts of the estate.
- Litigating claims – if anyone challenges the validity of the Will submitted to probate, the Executor must defend the Will. Also, a creditor whose claim was denied may appeal that denial to the court and the Executor/PR must represent the estate in that case.
- Calculating and paying taxes – the estate may be subject to state or federal gift and estate taxes. The Executor/PR must prepare the appropriate tax returns and if taxes are owed, they must be paid out of available estate funds before wrapping up probate.
- Effectuating the transfer of assets –at the end of the probate process, the Executor/PR must transfer the remaining assets to the intended beneficiaries or heirs of the estate.
Contact Oklahoma City Probate Attorneys
For additional information, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar. If you have additional questions or concerns about the probate process, contact the experienced Oklahoma City probate attorneys at Parman & Easterday by calling 405-843-6100 to schedule your appointment today.