When a person passes away, their estate typically needs to go through probate court before heirs can receive their inheritances. Many heirs don’t realize the probate process can be long and complicated, lasting up to two years. Understanding what probate court is and how it works will give you a better idea of what to expect from the process.
Probate Court Definition
Probate court is a specialized part of the judicial system dealing with wills and estates. Its primary purpose is to ensure a deceased person’s debts are paid and assets are appropriately allocated.
How Does Probate Court Work?
The probate process begins when someone files a petition for probate in the state’s probate court. A family member or a person designated in the descendent’s will typically files this petition.
The probate court then appoints an executor or personal representative to manage the estate during probate, which involves notifying creditors and beneficiaries, filing court documents and performing other administrative tasks.
Probate Court With a Will
If the descendent left a will, the probate court first determines whether the will is valid. The court must verify that the descendent was mentally capable of creating the will, no fraud or outside influence was involved when it was written and the will was properly signed.
If the court concludes the will is invalid or someone contests the will’s validity, the court decides how the estate proceeds. If the court determines the will is valid, the estate’s assets are distributed according to the will.
Probate Court Without a Will
In cases where the descendent doesn’t leave a will, the probate court distributes assets to the next of kin, or closest living blood relatives. The part of probate law known as the law of intestate succession outlines how funds should be allocated among spouses, parents, grandchildren, siblings, uncles and aunts.
Avoiding Probate Court
Probate court may not be necessary in a few specific circumstances, such as:
- Joint ownership of assets: If the descendent owned property or assets jointly with a spouse or child, those assets automatically pass to the co-owners, eliminating the need for probate.
- Revocable living trust: If the descendent had assets in a revocable living trust, those assets automatically transfer to beneficiaries per the terms of the trust and are not subject to probate.
- Financial assets with beneficiaries: If the descendent had annuities, retirement accounts or insurance policies with designated beneficiaries, those assets automatically pass to those beneficiaries and do not become part of the probate estate.
- Small estates: If the estate is valued under a certain amount, you may be able to claim assets with just a court-approved affidavit.
Eliminate the Wait With an Inheritance Advance From IFC
Going to probate court can be a frustrating and time-consuming process. At IFC, we provide estate heirs with cash advances so they don’t have to wait for probate court proceedings to finish to access their inheritance. We advance your money immediately, and the estate repays us when probate closes. You do not have to pay us back for the advance, and we don’t require collateral or charge you any interest.
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