When people die, their estates may be required to go through probate. The probate process determines if a deceased person’s will is valid, but it also handles that person’s debt payments and asset distribution to heirs. While every estate is unique, there are certain situations in which it may need to go through probate. Learning about common estate problems can help you better understand when the probate process is necessary or required.
Dying intestate means that a person has died without leaving a will. In those cases, intestacy laws govern the distribution of an estate’s assets. A probate court usually gets involved for a couple of reasons: to name an executor and to ensure that asset distribution takes place fairly. Some states allow small or low-value estates to go through a simpler probate process. In some cases, probate may be bypassed altogether.
Wills must meet certain requirements to be legally valid. If the deceased’s will fails to meet even one criterion, the entire will could be voided by a judge. Common mistakes include failure to notarize and lack of witness signatures. Even if the will conforms to state laws, relatives can still try to contest its validity. A probate lawyer should be involved when there are disputes with the will or property distribution disagreements.
Sometimes, people die without having beneficiaries. This may happen if a person has no surviving spouse, children, or other relatives and does not leave a will. In these cases, a probate court must determine how to distribute any assets from that person’s estate. The court may try to locate distant relatives or let the state appropriate the assets if no heirs exist.
Probate is notorious for being complex, lengthy, and expensive. It's natural to wonder if this process is even necessary. Expert advice and assistance may be useful in minimizing the time and costs involved with settling an estate. Smart planning and approaches are key to ensuring the best outcomes for the surviving family members.