Probate is a judicial process that automatically takes place after someone has passed away. It occurs whether or not the deceased person had a will, and whether or not there is agreement about the distribution of their assets.
What exactly does the Probate Court do?
The Probate Court in the person’s last county of residence reviews all relevant documents and determines:
- The validity of the will (or the wishes of the deceased, if there is no will)
- The value of the all assets they left behind (money, property, business interests)
- The proper beneficiary or beneficiaries of the estate (who gets what)
- The presence and validity of any challenges, liens or outstanding debts (to be satisfied before heirs get their share)
- Whether there are any questions, disputes or irregularities that need to be addressed
- The executor who will be in charge of distributing assets (as per the Court’s determinations)
Having a will on file helps things go smoother.
Typically, the original of the will must be forwarded to the Probate Court. Copies are not admissible. A death certificate and documents that prove asset ownership also need to be submitted.
It also helps to avoid complications if the person’s will was fairly recently updated. For example, when someone divorces and then remarries without updating their will, probate can become a much more difficult process.
Find out more about preparing a will in Tuscaloosa, why this step is so necessary to ensure that one’s wishes are carried out, and what else is involved in proper Estate Planning.
This may take a while.
Probate Courts tend to move slowly, sometimes taking over a year to complete their process.
It all tends to happen ‘behind the scenes, and the person’s family or other heirs do not typically need to attend court proceedings unless there is a dispute or question.
Some things do not need to go through probate.
Assets such as retirement or investment accounts that had been previously designated as “payable upon death” to someone else are forwarded to that person upon presenting a death certificate, without going through probate.
Previously created trusts are not subject to Probate Court review unless they are unfunded or are being challenged.
The role of Estate Planning Attorneys
It typically makes sense for families to contract with an attorney experienced in estate planning to guide them through the probate process. This is true especially if significant assets are at stake, or there is any possibility of question or disagreement regarding the deceased person’s wishes or the distribution of their estate.
Making a mistake at this point due to not understanding how things work can have serious and irreversible consequences, including paying significant taxes that could otherwise have been avoided.
Still have questions about Probate in Arkansas?
The Knapp Law Firm can help you navigate Probate, with sensitivity, discretion, and sound advice. They can also help prepare a will and explain other aspects of Estate Planning.