An Heir’s Role and Guide to the Probate Process
Often times, when someone becomes an heir to an estate, they
are unclear on exactly what to do next.
Because of the complex probate process, heirs rarely understand their
rights and choices, their role in probate, or the probate process itself.
As an heir, there are some things you should understand right
away about your role in the probate process:
- Contrary to popular belief, the estate attorney handling the
probate estate represents only his/her client, the Personal Representative,
“PR” for short (also referred to as the Executor or Administrator)
- Because the estate attorney does not represent any heir
associated with a probate estate other than the personal representative, he or
she is under no obligation to take or return any phone calls, or to provide you
advice as to your legal rights as an estate heir.
- Any information that you receive regarding the estate will
likely come in the form of a letter or probate pleadings sent to you by the
What is probate?
Probate is a court supervised process where the validity of
the decedent’s (person who passed away) last will is established and through
which the decedent’s estate is administered.
Probate is a very
time consuming and paperwork intensive process. While some estates can be administered in 18
months or less, a large percentage of estates can take up to 3 years to close.
This means that the estate heirs may not receive any inheritance money for up
to 3 years after probate first begins.
How does the probate process work?
The very first step in the probate process is filing the Petition for Probate. This petition, along with the original will
and codicils (legal alterations to the will), if any, are filed with the
probate court. Also filed at this stage
is the Notice of Petition to Administer
Estate. In this case, the
“petitioner” is usually the proposed Personal Representative.
Once these forms have been filed, the court clerk will set a
hearing for 45-60 days after the filing date.
It is at this point that notice has to be given to all of
the people named in the will. This is
most likely the stage at which you first received notice of your heirship.
The Notice of Petition
to Administer Estate is also published in a local newspaper to alert the
decedent’s creditors that they must file their claims with the court within a
specified period of time.
At the hearing, if no one has filed an objection to the
probate, the court will admit the will to probate and appoint the PR. After this appointment, the court will issue
Letters [either “Letters Testamentary” or “Letters of Administration”] which
are used by the PR to prove that they have the authority to act on behalf of
The second phase of probate consists of an ongoing process
of filings, notifications and applicable settlements. The following is just a short list of tasks
which must be completed:
- Identify all of the assets owned by the decedent at the
time of death
- File an Inventory & Appraisal which values the estate’s
assets, both real (land) and personal
- Notify the Department of Health Services
- Liquidate all of the estate’s assets
- Pay any debts, claims or taxes that are due and object to
claims which should not be allowed
- Settle all financial and property disputes
- The final phase of probate consists of closing the estate
and distributing the remaining assets to the heirs. If all goes smoothly, the final actions in
the probate will be:
- Obtaining a court order of distribution
- Closing the estate accounts
- Making final distributions to the heirs
- Obtaining receipts from the heirs for the distributions
made to them
As you can tell, the probate process is indeed a long and
difficult process. The good news is that
the Personal Representative chose to retain a probate attorney to guide the
estate through this complicated process!
The bad news is that, even with the help of an attorney, the probate
process can still take 12-18 months or longer!
WHAT IF YOU NEED A PORTION OF YOUR INHERITANCE NOW?
If there is a substantial amount of cash in the estate, it
may be possible to persuade the PR and the estate attorney to petition the
court for a preliminary distribution.
When this is not an option, contact Inheritance Funding
Company, Inc. [IFC]. IFC provides cash
advances to heirs who are stuck in Probate.
IFC’s inheritance advances are not loans, so there are no monthly payments. Instead, IFC actually purchases a portion of
your inheritance and is paid back directly from the estate when Probate is
closed. If you are interested in
learning more, call one of IFC’s Funding Officers at (800) 944-2072 or visit
IFC’s website at www.InheritanceFunding.com.