The whole concept of probate intimidates many people, but it is often a simple, uniform process, whether the deceased had a will (testate) or not (intestate). Except in unusual circumstances, most pleadings that a lawyer drafts from the beginning to the end of the case are fairly standard. However, a myriad of possibilities can interfere with the simplicity of the process, such as a will contest or a creditor issue. Oftentimes, it is a matter of identifying the information to correctly draft the pleadings and communicate with the client to obtain and understand that information.
The process begins with the filing of a Petition. Where there is a will, the will must be admitted to probate, and the personal representative named in the will, if he or she is qualified, is appointed and given authority to act on behalf of the estate. When there is no will, the Petitioner or one of the beneficiaries is usually named as the personal representative. Notices must be sent to all the beneficiaries and an inventory of the decedent’s property, both real and personal, must be completed and sent to the Court. Usually, if close family members are the only beneficiaries, they can agree to waive certain notices and can also agree to waive certain requirements, such as the filing of accountings and posting of bond by the personal representative. The personal representative must publish a Notice to Creditors and must give actual notice to known creditors. The personal representative evaluates the claims of any creditors that file timely claims and may pay other bills as they come due. Ultimately, the personal representative settles the claims of the creditors, sells or distributes the assets in the estate and then submits a final accounting to the court along with confirmations from beneficiaries that they have received their distributions. At that time, the personal representative asks the Court to close out the estate and discharge the personal representative.
Although the explanation above is a summary of the process itself, there are often nuances that require an attorney to use his or her expertise and experience to evaluate those nuances and resolve any potential issues. Therefore, communication between attorney and client is critical to enable the attorney to overcome any issues and efficiently administer the estate.