Settling a loved one's estate can be challenging during an already difficult time. Recently, the distribution of property has become more complex with extended families, family mobility and the like. When someone dies, the goal is to transfer property easily and quickly, and it is best to know the options available.
Probate if a Valid Will Exists
The easiest way to resolve an estate is if a valid Last Will and Testament exists. Most often, the Will of the deceased needs to be probated in order to distribute the property to the deceased's loved ones. If the deceased made clear instructions about the distribution of property, then the process is easy, but if there is not a valid will, it can be more difficult.
Probate is the legal process for proving a will valid or invalid, appointing an executor, and distributing estate assets according to the will or state law. This process must be applied for through the court of jurisdiction within four years of the death. Probate is appropriate when there is a valid will, and usually only includes one hearing, which is procedurally simple and will take place before a county judge. The process requires the Will to be filed by the executor, identification and inventory of the deceased's property, having the property appraised if necessary, paying taxes and any debt of the estate, notifying creditors and distribution of the remaining property to the beneficiaries as the Will directs.
An alternative to probate is shorter procedure known as probating the Will as "Muniment of Title". This may take place only if it has been less than four years since the person has died, there are no debts owned by the estate, and no administration is required. This process will require a short hearing just as in a full probate, but the following steps requiring notice to Will as Muniment of Title will be signed by the judge, and then a certified copy of the order and the Will are filed in the property records of the county where the property is located, distributing the property to the beneficiaries.
Administration if No Will Exists
In cases where there is no valid will, those interested in the estate will have to apply for administration, in which the probate Court will appoint an administrator to handle the estate. This process requires an Affidavit of Heirship, which is a document that identifies the heirs of the estate. This offers a way for beneficiaries to establish ownership of property and is most often used when the deceased dies without a will. The Affidavit of Heirship must be signed by an attorney ad litem, who will be appointed by the Court, and two witnesses, who know the deceased or the family, but will not personally gain from the estate.
It is in our client's best interest at Payne & Truitt, to make the distribution process as easy as possible during an already difficult time. Therefore, we encourage clients to make sure they have valid wills, so their beneficiaries can avoid applying for administration, as it is more costly than probate Court.
If you have lost a loved one and you need assistance in taking care of the property and debts he or she left behind, Payne & Truitt will do their upmost to provide caring and efficient service to you during this difficult time.