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A step-by-step guide to the probate process

Upon a decedent's passing, a petition for probate must be drafted and filed with the probate court in the proper jurisdiction, which can generally be determined as the decedent's county of residence for the last six months of his or her life. Though each state possesses its own set of probate rules, the general process of estate administration remains universally the same.

An attorney can assist in the drafting of this document and is highly recommended, as it is a complex document consisting of many pages. Once filed, a judge will determine the validity of a will and set a hearing date. All beneficiaries and heirs of the decedent must be notified of such. This allows ample time for a party to object should he or she choose to do so.

Next, the judge will appoint a personal representative for the estate, commonly known as the executor of the will. This person is usually named in a will, but if not, then the judge will appoint a next of kin. The appointed party may accept or decline the appointment. Once accepted, it is then the responsibility of the personal representative to locate the decedent's assets, identify and notify creditors and pay those claims. The debts will be paid with estate funds, either from existing accounts, or from the sale of estate assets. Final tax returns must then be filed for the year the decedent died.

Finally, once all outstanding matters have been settled, the Spersonal representative disburses the remainder of the estate to heirs and beneficiaries. Once all disbursements have been accepted and paid in full, the personal representative may then file a final accounting and petition to close out the probate. The entire process from start to finish takes a minimum of six months to complete, but can often take longer depending on legal issues that can arise.

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