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What happens during probate?

Probate is the process of proving a will's validity and distributing assets to heirs. It can often be a complex process, especially when the deceased owns a lot of property or has a number of assets in his or her name. The Balance explains what you can expect during the process, so you and your family will be properly prepared. 

The first step involves authenticating the will, or proving that it is indeed valid. This establishes that the deceased actually signed the will and that there are no newer versions that would take precedent. Next, an executor will be named by the court. This person is responsible for overseeing all tasks related to the will, including paying back creditors and asset distribution. 

It's also necessary for the executor to locate all of the deceased's assets. While this may seem like a relatively straight forward process, that's not always the case. People often have property or other assets that their family is not aware of. If so, it's up to the executor to track down all assets so they can be included during probate. When it comes to property, the executor must ensure mortgage and other payments are made to prevent the home from being seized by the bank. Other types of valuables, such as jewelry, will be collected by the executor and stored in a safe until which time they are dispersed to heirs. 

Next, creditors must be notified of the person's death. Once creditors receive notice, they must make claims to ensure they're paid for any remaining debt. There are usually deadlines for claims, so creditors must act within that period of time to receive payment. Executors can also reject any claims that they feel are without merit. 

Once the debt is paid off, assets may be distributed to heirs. This entails a financial report to be submitted to the court so it can be determined that all other tasks have been completed. In the event there are minor heirs, it may be necessary to set up a trust in their name. This prevents inheritances from being distributed in one lump sum, which can be problematic for younger heirs. 

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