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Probate Basics

The legal process of transferring of property upon a person’s death is known as “probate.” Although probate customs and laws have changed over time, the purpose has remained much the same: people formalize their intentions as to the transfer of their property at the time of their death (typically in a will), their property is collected, certain debts are paid from the estate, and the property is distributed.

Probate Basics

Probate Administration

Today the probate process is a court-supervised process that is designed to sort out the transfer of a person’s property at death. Property subject to the probate process is that owned by a person at death, which does not pass to others by designation or ownership (i.e. life insurance policies and “payable on death” bank accounts). A common expression you may have heard is “probating a will.” This describes the process by which a person shows the court that the decedent (the person who died) followed all legal formalities in drafting his or her will. What is often taught about the probate process is how to avoid it.

The movement to avoid probate is primarily motivated by the desire to avoid probate fees. It is, in fact, quite possible to avoid the probate process completely. There are three primary ways to avoid probate and its protections: joint ownership with the right of survivorship, gifts, and revocable trusts. The probate system, however, exists for the protection of all the parties involved and the focus of this article is what occurs in probate.

What Happens in Probate?

The probate process may be contested or uncontested. Most contested issues generally arise in the probate process because a disgruntled heir is seeking a larger share of the decedent’s property than that he or she actually received. Arguments often raised include: the decedent may have been improperly influenced in making gifts, the decedent did not know what they were doing (insufficient mental capacity) at the time the will was executed, and the decedent did not follow the necessary legal formalities in drafting his or her will. The majority of probated estates, however, are uncontested. The basic process of probating an estate includes:

  • Collecting all probate property of the decedent;
  • Paying all debts, claims and taxes owed by the estate;
  • Collecting all rights to income, dividends, etc.;
  • Settling any disputes; and
  • Distributing or transferring the remaining property to the heirs.

Usually, the decedent names a person (executor) to take over the management of his or her affairs upon death. If the decedent fails to name an executor, the court will appoint a personal representative, or administrator, to settle the estate. The administrator will fulfill many of the same duties listed above.

Typically, people may leave property to any person they wish, and may make such designations in their will. However, in certain situations, depending on the relationship to the decedent and the laws of the state, the decedent’s wishes may have to be overridden by the court. For example, in most states, a spouse is entitled to a certain amount of property. Furthermore, creditors may have a claim on the property of the estate. Each jurisdiction usually prescribes how long an estate must be open to give creditors an adequate time frame in which to present claims to the estate. The more complex and sizable the estate, the longer and more time-consuming this process can be.

The probate process itself also carries with it a number of costs that are usually paid out of estate assets. These costs include:

  • Fees of the personal representative;
  • Attorneys’ fees; and
  • Court costs.

Why Do I Need a Will?

A will is simply a formal way of setting forth your wishes regarding how you would like your property distributed upon your death. You should consider a will whether you are single, married, have minor children, or own even a small amount of personal assets or property. In fact, every adult should have a will or other means to control the disposition of their assets. If you have not formalized your intentions, your estate may meet with unnecessary and costly litigation, adding to the grief experienced by your survivors. Avoiding the financial and emotional turmoil of will contests and other legal wrangling starts with choosing an experienced estate planning attorney.

Free Consultation with a Utah Estate Lawyer

If you are here, you probably have a business law issue you need help with, call Ascent Law for your free estate law consultation (801) 676-5506. We want to help you.

Michael R. Anderson, JD

Ascent Law LLC
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States

Telephone: (801) 676-5506

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About the Author

People who want a lot of Bull go to a Butcher. People who want results navigating a complex legal field go to a Lawyer that they can trust. That’s where I come in. I am Michael Anderson, an Attorney in the Salt Lake area focusing on the needs of the Average Joe wanting a better life for him and his family. I’m the Lawyer you can trust. I grew up in Utah and love it here. I am a Father to three, a Husband to one, and an Entrepreneur. I understand the feelings of joy each of those roles bring, and I understand the feeling of disappointment, fear, and regret when things go wrong. I attended the University of Utah where I received a B.A. degree in 2010 and a J.D. in 2014. I have focused my practice in Wills, Trusts, Real Estate, and Business Law. I love the thrill of helping clients secure their future, leaving a real legacy to their children. Unfortunately when problems arise with families. I also practice Family Law, with a focus on keeping relationships between the soon to be Ex’s civil for the benefit of their children and allowing both to walk away quickly with their heads held high. Before you worry too much about losing everything that you have worked for, before you permit yourself to be bullied by your soon to be ex, before you shed one more tear in silence, call me. I’m the Lawyer you can trust.