What Is Probate & Why Is It Important?

James Zakasky
An estate attorney who goes beyond drafting wills and creating trusts

Understanding Probate

In simple terms, probate is a process that allows a person to transfer their property to living beneficiaries after death. This process involves a local court, which reviews materials and documents related to the distribution of assets and debts. Probate is often conducted whether or not the deceased person leaves a will.

Probate is a vitally important part of the laws governing inheritance. From the government’s perspective, the most important part of probate law is determining any debts and taxes that exist in the estate. While there are ways to avoid probate, it’s an important concept to understand for both the testate (person who is leaving the estate) and for the beneficiary who will receive the assets.

Breaking Down the Probate Process

If you have a will which names an executor, then they will start the process by filing the appropriate paperwork with the local probate court. It is highly recommended that the executor hire an attorney to handle this paperwork, and to help prove the validity of your will. The executor, or their legal representative, will then need to supply the court with a list of your property, debts, and beneficiaries. Once this has all been established, they can begin to pay debts and transfer property.

If you do not have a will at the time of your death, the process will be similar – however, the executor of your estate will be appointed by a judge. Only after all property, beneficiaries, and outstanding debts and taxes have been established, can the probate court start to pay debts and transfer property to the new owners. Since you did not name beneficiaries, the court will follow state laws to determine who will inherit what, and this can be a very lengthy process.

Probate Can Affect the Testate and the Beneficiary

While the testate won’t be present for probate, this process can play a major role in how their final wishes are fulfilled. Without proper planning, much of the money that the testate planned on leaving to their spouse or children can be eaten up with court fees, and the lengthy process could impart unwanted stress on their loved ones.

For beneficiaries, the probate process will impact both the amount and the timeliness of their inheritance. Probate cases can drag on for years, especially for estates without a will. This is why it’s critical to hire an experienced lawyer who can ease the process and defend your best interests.

Take Steps to Simplify the Probate Process

By establishing an effective estate plan, you can simplify or even eliminate probate through living trusts, joint tenancy and a number of other techniques. It’s important to have your assets organized to relieve the burden your survivors will face. For beneficiaries who are dealing with the probate court, an attorney can help handle the process and take the burden off your shoulders.

At the Law Office of James A. Zakasky, our experienced probate and estate planning lawyer can help you create an organized and effective estate strategy. We take the time to learn about you, and craft an estate plan which is tailored to your unique wishes. For individuals who are dealing with a probate case, we offer strategic counsel to help make the process as smooth as possible.

Work with an experienced probate lawyer who can help you navigate this complex and time-consuming process. Call the Law Office of James A. Zakasky at (707) 595-1148!

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