Who can you trust? Deb hears this question over and over again in her professional practice as an elder law attorney and a fee-only, holistic financial planner. Let Deb teach you how to protect yourself and your assets from those who might not have your best interests at heart. [Editor's note: Deb no longer contributes to Silver Planet, but we have made her archived blog entries available as a service to our readers.]
Probate begins when someone turns in the last will and testament of a recently deceased person (the “decedent”) to the probate court. The court then investigates whether this is indeed the last will and testament, and appoints an executor (or a personal representative or an administrator) to administer the estate.
Administering the estate involves winding up the decedent’s personal affairs. The executor identifies and safeguards all the decedent’s property, pays off all valid creditor claims, fights off any illegitimate creditor claims, and sells or liquidates property, keeping accurate records every step of the way. When all creditor issues are resolved, only then do the beneficiaries get their share, according to the will’s provisions.
What if there is no will? Then probate begins when some “interested person” petitions the court to begin the process. This is usually an heir, but it could be a creditor who just wants to get paid! State law determines who gets what.
At any step along the way, interested persons can request court involvement. In other words, people can complain or sue each other if they don’t like how things are proceeding. As in life, so in death . . .
By Deborah Hoskins, JD, CFP
The Wise and the Wary Blog