Legal

After a person has passed away, there is an orderly process by which that individual’s legal and financial affairs are settled. The probate process settles existing debts and then distributes the remaining assets to beneficiaries and heirs.

If there is a will
A family member or other responsible party should locate the Decedent’s will which will usually name the Executor—the person who will oversee the execution of the will according to the Decedent’s wishes. The responsible party or executor will need to contact the county clerk or a court coordinator in the decedent’s county of last residence and will need to have a copy of the death certificate available. Having a will makes the entire process easier and less expensive.

If there is not a will
A family member or other responsible party can contact the county clerk or a court coordinator in the decedent’s county of last residence and present a copy of the death certificate. The responsible party can ask to be appointed as an administrator who will settle the decedent’s affairs under the guidance of the court.

Going to Court
The court will schedule an appearance before the judge for the executor or administrator. At this time the will should be presented, if one is available. The judge will authenticate the will and issue an order admitting the will to probate. The judge generally will provide the executor or administrator with documents called “Letters Testamentary” or “Letters of Administration” which will give authorization to conduct business on the decedent’ behalf.

The probate process will generally involve a three step process:

  • Developing an inventory and valuation of all assets. You can download free home inventory software here.
  • Recording all outstanding bills, taxes, estate expenses, and funeral expenses.
  • The formal transfer of estate property according to the will or based upon state laws in the event that no will is present.