The death of a loved one is an emotional time. The sadness and pain can be difficult to navigate on their own. When you add in the need to unwind their finances, pay their bills, and dispose of their property, an already emotionally fraught experience becomes even more complex and stressful.
The first step after a death is to get a copy of the death certificate. Once you have that, you can file a petition to probate with the local probate court. The court will appoint a personal representative for the estate. This representative will usually be the person named in the will, if there is one. If not, state law creates a hierarchy of who may be appointed.
The personal representative will be responsible for discovering what assets the estate possesses, taking control of them, having them appraised if necessary, applying for an EIN, and opening an estate checking account. Next, the personal representative will need to send a letter to each of the decedent’s creditors and place an ad in the local newspaper informing potential creditors of the decedent’s death. Once the time for making a claim against the estate has passed, the personal representative must pay the debts owed by the estate, including any taxes.
If there is a will, the personal representative is responsible for interpreting and executing it. The laws on how this must be done are opaque and not at all intuitive, so it is very useful to have an experienced probate attorney helping you. If there is no will, then the property that remains after expenses must be distributed according to the intestacy laws. Once this is all complete, the personal representative must file a complete accounting of all expenses and property distributions with the court.
This is a basic overview of the process, but it can get more complicated. There may be a spousal allowance to pay, requests for extension to be filed, etc. While a non-attorney can handle the probate of an estate on their own, it is a complex process that opens the personal representative up to financial and legal liability if not conducted correctly. Therefore, it is very advisable to have a qualified probate attorney assist you. If you need probate assistance or just have questions, please contact the probate attorneys at McNeelyLaw LLP.
This McNeelyLaw LLP publication should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion of any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult your own lawyer on any specific legal questions you may have concerning your situation.