What is Probate? – Utah Probate Lawyer Explains
If someone close to you has recently died, the distribution of their estate may be a part of settling their affairs. We call the person who died a decedent. Depending on the situation, it may be necessary to probate the estate. Unless you are a lawyer or court official yourself, it is likely that the Utah probate system is unfamiliar to you.
This can seem confusing, but understanding a little bit about what probate is and when it is necessary can help you determine whether or not this is a necessary legal process for your personal situation.
What is Probate?
In simple terms, probate is the legal process of proving a will’s validity in court. If the decedent did not leave a will then the probate appoints someone to sign the decedent’s name and administer what the decedent left behind pursuant to the Utah Probate Code. This is important step when determining how the deceased’s assets will be distributed. It grants the personal representative (also called an executor), or person enacting and enforcing the will, legal permission to carry out the will as specified. Probate may also include appraising assets and paying debts and taxes.
However, probate isn’t always necessary. Whether probate is necessary or not depend on the condition of the estate left behind. For example, property left in a valid trust does not need to be probated – it is administered outside of probate. In Utah, there are many ways to avoid having to go through the probate process. Discussing your options with a lawyer is the best way to know whether or not probate is necessary for you.
How does Probate Work?
First and foremost, there are two kinds of probate court processes in Utah, formal and informal.
An informal probate process is used when the beneficiaries of the will are generally in agreement, and don’t require a judge to settle disputes. This process is also significantly less expensive than the other. If all of the parties to the probate case in in agreement, we call that an uncontested probate case and it flows smoother than a contested case, or one where everyone fights about different things.
A formal probate process is for when the beneficiaries are unable to agree and therefore require a formal court setting in order to settle disputes. In a formal probate, there are more steps, several court hearings in front a judge happen and it can be cumbersome and expensive.
If you’re not sure whether you have a contested probate case or an uncontested one, you should speak with a probate attorney to discuss how to proceed.
How to Start a Probate Case in Utah
After deciding which process to use, the probate is opened and started by the Personal Representative (or Petitioner) by preparing and filing an application or petition for probate and appointment of personal representative in the district court. Your attorney will draft this petition.
In order to properly draft this petition, lawyers need to have some vital information.
First, attorneys need to know the names, addresses and telephone numbers of each person named in the will and all children and surviving spouses as well. If there is no will, the attorney still needs all of the contact information for surviving family members. Second, the lawyer will need a copy of the death certificate. The attorney will also need a copy of the last will and testament if there is one. The attorneys typically no longer need to keep the original will. In our office, we will scan the original, examine it, and return it to the person who provided it. Utah courts no longer require the original will to be filed with the courts because the courts are all on a digital system. Once the property attorney has this information, the petition is drafted and filed with the court. The This stage in the process ends when a personal representative is appointed and the court accepts the will (if there is one) as valid and a court order authorizing the probate of the estate is signed and letters testamentary or letters of administration are issued.
The second portion of the court proceedings determines whether the probate will be administered without formal decision from the court (informal) or if a court needs to settle disputes over distribution in hearings (formal). This is complete when all debts and creditors have been paid, and all inheritances have been calculated for the respective heirs.
Finally, the probate must be closed informally with a closing statement or formally with a petition to the court. The proceedings are finished when the Personal Representative is released from their position and no appeals are waiting to be heard.
So What Do I Do Now?
Probate can be a long, expensive, and confusing process, but it can often be avoided, especially if an estate plan has been created. Nevertheless, probate may be the most important step for you to take in settling the affairs of your loved ones.
For more information about probate proceedings and what your options are, set up a free consultation with one of our lawyers today. Call (801) 676-5506 to learn more about the next best step for you.
8833 S. Redwood Road, Suite C
West Jordan, Utah
84088 United States
Telephone: (801) 676-5506