The property of a decedent is distributable to his or her heirs following the decedent’s death and, in the course of the distribution, the property must be lawfully re-titled to the name(s) of the heirs so that they can freely enjoy and dispose of that property after receiving it. Except in very few instances, the heir’s obtaining title and distribution of those assets is not automatic; a legal procedure is necessary which safeguards the integrity of that property’s passing hands and insures that it is being transferred to the right person in the correct amount. The probate court is the division of the state court system that has jurisdiction to hear and decide matters of estates (inheritance) and the distribution of estate property. The probate division also oversees and hears guardianship and conservatorship cases involving minors, adults with certain end of life conditions and those who are developmentally disabled.
Probating an Estate: Basic Overview. To commence the administration of an estate, the original last will & testament along with a death certificate and certain other documents must be filed in the probate court. Those documents together will ask the court to a) appoint a personal representative who will oversee the estate’s administration, and b) distribute the decedent’s property according to a certain plan. If a person died intestate (ie without a last will and testament) a probate proceeding must nevertheless take place to address the distribution of the decedent’s property, but in that case the intestacy statutes will set the hierarchy for how and to who that estate’s assets will be distributed. It’s strongly recommended that the administration of an estate be commenced as soon as possible after a person has died, especially if there is property that should be protected. After the initial documents are filed, the court will appoint a personal representative to manage the administration of the estate and administration therefore officially commences. Following the appointment of a personal representative, a publication in a local newspaper should take place which gives notice to interested creditors and lets them object to distribution or intervene in the proceedings by filing claims(s) to recuperate monies that the decedent may have owed them. Following the disposal of any creditor claims, the probate proceeding moves to the distribution phase where the parties/heirs ultimately seek a court order that vests title in the decedent’s property to the persons entitled to a share. It is important to note that probate proceedings can be challenged during the course of an administration for a myriad of reasons. Persons who may be an heir to an estate have very important rights that should be safeguarded and it is recommendable that they consult with an experienced probate attorney immediately if they have any questions regarding the probate proceedings.