Probate wills refer to decedents’ last will and testament held in probate court. Unless estate assets are protected by a trust, wills must be validated to ensure they are legal. The probate process can last several months or years. Much depends on the estate value, type of assets and family dynamics.
Probate wills are submitted through probate court upon death. The probate process is required to confirm estate executors, settle outstanding debts, identify rightful heirs, and distribute inheritance property according to directives outlined in the Will.
Some states require court confirmation before estate executors can commence with required duties. Every aspect of estate administration must be documented and presented to a judge to ensure outstanding debts and taxes are paid.
The decedent’s estate is responsible for paying creditor debts, medical and funeral expenses, and any expenses related to real estate holdings. When outstanding debt exceeds estate financial holdings, the probate executor may need to retain the services of an attorney to negotiate with creditors and reduce the amount of debt owed. Oftentimes, the presiding judge will order administrators to sell inheritance property to satisfy creditor debts.
When decedents hold real estate with an outstanding mortgage, the estate is responsible for paying home mortgage installments along with property taxes and insurance. If the estate cannot afford to maintain the property, a judge can order it to be sold.
Heirs are not responsible for paying estate-related expenses. However, in order to prevent losing real estate to foreclosure heirs can pay the mortgage note and request reimbursement once the estate settles. This can be a risky financial move. However, if multiple heirs are entitled to the property they can hire a lawyer to draft probate real estate contracts to ensure all parties are protected.
Probate wills allow decedents to designate an estate administrator and bequeath inheritance property to loved ones. Estate planning experts recommend appointing two executors. If the primary probate executor is unable to fulfill estate administration duties, the second administrator can quickly step into the role.
In instances where a direct lineage heir is disinherited, it is crucial to include a “disinherited statement” within the probate will. Decedents should outline their reasons for excluding a loved one from receiving inheritance property. Including a statement reduces the changes of heirs contesting the Will.
Everyone over the age of 18 should execute a legal last will. Many affordable options exist. Preformatted Wills can be downloaded via the Internet at no cost. Individuals fill in the blanks and obtain the signature of two witnesses and a notary public. Most office supply stores sell estate planning kits for a nominal fee. These types of Wills are usually sufficient for people who are single and do not have minor children, as well as those who do not own valuable assets.
Individuals that own real estate or financial portfolios, or have minor children should work with a professional estate planner. Estate planners can offer guidance for establishing guardianship and provide strategies to avoid probate altogether.
Executing probate wills is one of the best gifts to leave loved ones. Dying intestate (without a will) can prolong distribution of inheritance property and potentially bankrupt the estate. If you have not drafted a will, now is the time to do so.