What is the probate process?

The probate process, also called estate administration, is the system by which a deceased person’s property is collected, his debts are paid, and the balance is distributed according to his wishes as stated in a Will or among his heirs as outlined by statute if there is no Will.  The Probate Court oversees these cases.  To begin the process, the person named in a Will, or another interested person if there is no Will, must file certain forms in the Probate Court in the county where the deceased person lived.  This filing must include certain court approved forms, a certified death certificate and a Will if applicable, as well as a filing fee.  All interested parties must receive notice that the estate is being probated.  The person who the court will authorize to act in the decedent’s stead is called the “Personal Representative.”  Once appointed, the Personal Representative will have the authority to access the decedent’s bank accounts and other assets.  She should then consolidate the assets into a single estate account that can be used to pay any of the decedent’s outstanding bills as well as all estate bills.  The Personal Representative may also be required to provide the Court with an inventory of the decedent’s assets at the time of his death.  Because creditors have one full year from the date of death to make a claim against an estate, most estates remain open for that period before any final distributions to heirs are made.  After that time, the Personal Representative may need to provide the Court with an account of how the funds were used and eventually distributed among the heirs before the estate can be closed.