When a person dies, someone has to handle their estate and the process it through a legal system. This is what is commonly referred to as probate. It is also sometimes referred to as administering the estate. The term estate refers to any money, property and other possessions.
The process involves collecting all the possessions left, paying any outstanding debts and distributing whatever is left to the people entitled to it. It helps transfer the estate in a supervised and orderly way. Estate administration applies whether the deceased left a will or not. In practice, the process will depend on whether the deceased left a will and where they lived.
If there was a will, the executor named in the will is in charge of the property administration process. If a will was not left, an administrator will be appointed by the court to administer the estate. The general term for the person in charge of administration for an estate is the personal representative.
In America, the process is usually under the jurisdiction of the probate courts which are state courts. This means that the process will vary from state to state. In the U. K, the process for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales is also different. However, the general procedure is similar for most jurisdictions in many places.
The executor of the will or the administrator is given the authority to handle matters of the deceased by the court. The document showing that he/she has the authority is used to access any assets held by the deceased. The activities of the personal representative are usually governed by strict rules to avoid misuse of power granted to them.
In some places, the personal representative has to notify the public that the estate owner has passed on. This gives any person with any alleged claim to the estate an opportunity to file a formal complaint. The personal representative is in charge of payment of any debts or taxes that were owed by the deceased.
The personal representative conducts a complete check of the property in the estate and collects all necessary documents. There are some assets that are non-probate, for example assets held jointly, the ownership automatically passes to the remaining person in case of death of one on of the owners. The inventory check is important to identify all assets and make sure the assets are adequate to cover the debts owed. The payment of creditors is done according to merit and this varies in each area. The will, if available, determines how the property will be divided. If there is no will, the probate laws determine what each beneficiary gets.
The distribution of assets to the beneficiaries usually marks the end to the probate process and the property accounts are then closed. In most cases, the personal representative is entitled to a fee. The probate process can be complicated depending on how complicated the property is. If the property to be probated is in different jurisdictions, different processes may have to be followed.
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