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What To Do When You're Approaching Probate

James Anderson

October 7, 2022

Estate planning often comes with many issues, which can significantly impact families and loved ones. Look at some relatives that live in bitterness and disunity. Often, you may find that estate planning issues could be one root cause.

When it comes to matters of estate planning, every small detail matters. Usually, probate helps to authorize your will. In some cases, others may avoid probate and choose to pass on estates to their beneficiaries through working with:

  • The right estate documents
  • Asset titling
  • Beneficiary designations.

The fact is that; estate planning is essential. Still, many people do not prioritize writing wills, only to leave behind a family living in fights and disagreements. Just imagine that 50 to 60% of Americans do not have a will.

It helps to know that; probate guarantees your property goes to the right people once you leave this world. It works differently for different states. In fact, the experiences can even differ from one county to another. 

Before we look at what to do when you’re approaching probate, let’s find out what exactly probate is.

What is Probate?

Probate is the court-ordered process of your estate’s management after your death. It involves legal procedures that a will goes through to determine its validity. This is done before your property’s distribution to the beneficiaries. 

Usually, the one writing the will (testator) identifies an executor in the will. The identified person will then play the role of moving the will through the entire probate process. Beneficiaries are those who’ll inherit from the stated will.

In summary, the probate process involves:

  • Authorizing your Will
  • Appointing your executor
  • Payment for any pending bills and taxes
  • Determining your assets
  • Distributing the assets to the beneficiaries. 

As mentioned earlier, you’ll often be held accountable based on the probate laws applicable in your state. When approaching probate, some of the things that matter most include:

  • The status of your will
  • Your asset titling
  • Your assets’ value

So, what do you do when you’re approaching probate? Let’s find out below.

What You Need to Do When You’re Approaching Probate?

If you were appointed by a will as the executor, handling the deceased’s affairs (estate planning, wills and trusts) can be difficult. At this point, you need to take the time to grieve. 

Now, add the procedure of identifying the beloved’s assets and seeking probate. You can end up stressed. Sometimes, trying to locate the original will can also add to your botherations.

Knowing what to do and what probate actually entails is vital. It will help ease your mind and enable you to overcome your fears about the entire process. You get to relax, knowing it isn’t as complicated as you might have thought.

Here’s what you should do:

1. Seek the Guidance of Experienced Estate Planning Attorneys

At this point, you want nothing but a simplified legal and administrative process. The last thing you wouldn’t wish to experience is the headaches that come with facing difficult probate procedures.

But, amidst the emotional and overwhelming moment, the Probate Lawyers in Orange County affirm that you don’t have to navigate the legal and financial processes alone. Usually, if your family member passed away and didn’t have an estate plan, your estate planning attorneys will help you ease the probate procedures. 

Working without a probate lawyer may experience a long and costly court process. The Orange County probate lawyers state that the estate planning attorneys help extensively in the court-supervised procedure. They ensure that the legal transfer of the deceased’s assets from their name to the names of the legal beneficiaries or heirs is quickly attained.

Some important things the probate lawyer does are:

  • Prove the legality of the will
  • Appoint the person responsible for managing the estate (administrator). This is if there is no will or if there’s one, but with no executor.
  • Handle the inventory and appraisal of the estate property
  • Direct the payment of any debts or taxes (this includes estate taxes)
  • Help in finalizing the property’s distribution as directed by the will. If there’s no will, the trusts lawyer will handle the matter by state law.

2. Check to Ensure You Have the Required Documents

When you’re approaching probate, the following legal documents matter most.

  • The Original Will and the Codicils

You must check to ensure that you have the original will, plus the codicils. Regarding probate application, both the original will and codicils must be filed together. The court will often retain the documents. 

To be justifiable, you must have the will or codicil in writing and then signed by the testator and two witnesses. The legal papers should also be verified. This is done to ensure that they are not carbon or photocopied. 

  • Send the Original Will to the Probate Registry

To obtain a ‘Grant of Probate,’ you must send the original will to the Probate Registry. This is where they prove the will’s validity. 

Perhaps you may wonder if you can still apply for probate in scenarios where:

  • You can’t find the original will but have a copy
  • The will is unsigned or isn’t properly witnessed

Let’s find out below what you can do in such scenarios.

When You Can’t Find the Original Will

Not finding the will may delay the entire process. Here, the Probate Registry will require extra information from the executors. They should give further details to prove the will when you cannot locate the original one.

This is where you also need your estate planning attorneys’ intervention because the probate may be termed invalid. Based on where the will was when it disappeared, it can be presumed that the testator revoked it. 

Usually, missing wills can also cause arguments between beneficiaries who face chances of losing the inheritance. This could be the case if the will can’t be found.

When the Will is Unsigned or Updated

Where the will is unsigned or undated, you must provide evidence regarding when the will was executed. This is mainly critical if there’s another will to help determine the last one that was made. 

In this case, you should give an affidavit through an attesting witness or other persons who may have relevant information about when the will was made. Or, the witnesses can narrow down the possible dates around which the will was made.

An affidavit of attestation of witnesses will also help if there are doubts regarding the right execution and witnessing of the will. It also applies if the will contains hand-written amendments that the testator and witnesses may not have initiated.

The attesting witness’s affidavit establishes whether amendments were made before executing the will. Also, the affidavit evidence may be essential if it seems that other documents had been attached to the will, and might have been removed.

The evidence is also necessary if the will was previously torn or maybe defaced since its execution. 

Outsider Tips from Other Business Leaders

Here is what 4 thought leaders had to say:

QUESTION: What's the best insight/tip you would provide someone that is entering probate?

  • Keep Your Assets Safe
  • Understand the Terms and Meanings in the Probate
  • Know Your Limitations to Avoid Unnecessary Expenditures
  • Hire An Experienced Estate Lawyer

Keep Your Assets Safe

One of the most important things to do when entering probate is to keep all the assets safe. This includes not only physical items like jewelry and art but also important documents like wills and trusts. 

It's also important to be careful with money, as it's easy to lose track of expenses during this stressful time. Keep meticulous records of all income and expenditures, and be sure to consult with an accountant or financial advisor if you have questions. 

By taking these precautions, you can help ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible.

Lorien Strydom, Executive Country Manager, Financer.com

Understand the Terms and Meanings in the Probate

More often than not, legal proceedings contain terminology that can confuse you, especially when you’re already in an emotional spot. 

Getting to know the vocabulary in the probate will save you the trouble of being short-changed or having to go through baseless arguments because of misunderstandings stemming from a lack of terminology understanding.

Yongming Song, CEO, Live Poll for Slides

Know Your Limitations to Avoid Unnecessary Expenditures

The best insight I would give someone entering probate is to make sure they are aware of the limitations of their choices.

There are certain things that can't be done in probate, and if you don't know what those things are, you could end up making a decision that will cost you more money or time than necessary.

Probate is an expensive and time-consuming process, so it's important to be aware of the limitations and avoid unnecessary expenditures.

Amer Hasovic, Content Writer, Love & Lavender

Hire An Experienced Estate Lawyer

Invest in a lawyer that has previously dealt with matters similar to your own issue, to ensure a quick and smooth probate process. They should specialize in this aspect of the law, in order to produce the best possible outcome. 

A will and probate lawyer will have background information about the probate period you may not have since they have training and experience in such matters. As a specialist, they will also be familiar with nuances in the law, compared to someone who has more of a general practice. 

Having the lawyer act on your behalf will also save you from having to engage in endless meetings for the entire period it takes to transfer the ownership of the deceased’s estate.

Grant Barra, Founder & Operations Executive, RELI Exchange

Final Thoughts

No one wishes to leave their loved ones to suffer once they’re long gone. It’s hard to discuss such matters, yet very relevant.

"Estate planning is crucial to your long-term retirement strategy. It helps to be intentional concerning where your assets will go. This protects your legacy and provides for your loved ones once you’re not around."

Lisa Lacey | Lisa Buys Austin Houses | Real Estate Investor & Cash Homebuyer

When you make proactive decisions about your estate, it means that both the courts and your family won’t be left to decide what to do with your assets.

So, whether approaching retirement or into your old years, good estate planning is a significant part of your overall financial health. It helps to work with good estate planning lawyers during the estate planning process.

They’ll often review all your relevant documents. Such include wills, trusts, and memorandums of instruction. They then help you to ensure you meet every appropriate condition for probate.

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