What is probate?
Probate is the process by which legal title to property is transferred from the deceased person’s estate to his/her beneficiaries. The probate process involves the following:
- proving that the deceased person’s Will is valid;
- hearing any objections to the Will;
- identifying and listing the deceased person’s property;
- appraising the property;
- paying any outstanding debts and taxes that are owed; and
- distributing the remaining property according to the deceased person’s Will.
In Maryland and Washington, D.C., if a person dies without a Will, the same process occurs except that the probate court appoints a person to handle any claims against the estate, pay creditors and then distribute any remaining property in accordance to state laws, which may be very different from your wishes.
Your executor is the person who finds, secures, and manages your assets during the probate process, which can take anywhere from a few months to a year. Depending on the contents of your Will and on the amount of debt you owe, your executor may have to sell your property. For example, if you owe many debts, your executor might sell some of your property to pay the debts. Or, if your Will makes a number of cash bequests to beneficiaries and your estate consists of non-cash property, your executor might sell your non-cash property to produce cash to be given to your beneficiaries.
When drafting your Will and estate plan, it is important to seek legal advice and guidance to ensure your wishes are carried out.