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How do you get through the probate process?

While the probate process is slightly different in each state, some overarching basics are the same across the nation. The purpose of probate and the basic steps by which you navigate through it are some of those basics.

Probate is a process that transfers someone's property when they pass away. It is court-supervised to some degree, though the amount of interaction and decision-making by the court depends on the type and size of the estate and what estate planning documents were left behind. In the absence of any estate planning documents, such as trusts or wills, the court must follow federal and state laws in distributing assets. While those laws are designed with some equity and protection in mind for heirs such as spouses and children, they aren't designed to completely protect the wishes of the deceased, making estate plans important.

No matter how much estate planning you do, your estate still has to go through some basic probate steps. All of the property must be identified or collected, and the same is true for debts. Value in the estate must be used to pay off debts and settle any remaining tax burdens. Tax filings are usually completed by someone acting as executor to the estate, and they might include final income tax returns for the deceased.

Once debts are settled, the heirs and potential heirs use probate to settle any disputes between them regarding the estate. This is sometimes the longest and most tedious part of the probate process, and there have been cases that went on for years.

Finally, once matters are settled or the court makes decisions, the remaining property in the estate is distributed according to estate planning documents and the law. If you are dealing with the probate process or have questions following the death of a loved one, reach out to an estate law professional to find out where you stand.

Source: FindLaw, "The Probate Basics," accessed Sep. 16, 2016

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