What is Probate?

Legal Services in Towson, MD

Probate is a legal process that takes place after someone dies and serves as the framework for distribution assets that pass into an estate.

The main steps include:

  • proving the validity of the deceased’s will,
  • inventorying and having their property valued,
  • settling legitimate debts and paying any taxes owed,
  • then distributing remaining property according to the terms of the will or, if no will is present state law.
Put simply, the probate helps transfer assets from an estate in the correct and in an orderly manner.

The first steps are opening the estate and having the Personal Representative (PR) appointed.

A personal representative is the person named in a will or appointed by the court to be in charge of an estate. After filing a Petition for Probate with the orphan’s court in the county where the decedent resided and having the will acknowledged as valid, the PR notifies surviving family members and creditors of a person’s death.

The PR must then inventory all real and personal property in an estate.

This part of the process serves two major purposes.

  1. First, it is important to ensure that all property is accounted for. It is difficult to make sure everyone gets what they are entitled to if there are unknown sums of money in a bank account or property in another state nobody was aware of.
  2. This also serves to make sure there is enough value in the estate to first cover debts and distributions to beneficiaries.

Finally, the estate is distributed.

Although the order can vary slightly from state to state, property in Maryland is distributed as follows:

  • estate administration costs,
  • family allowances,
  • funeral expenses,
  • taxes and debt,
  • all remaining claims,
  • and finally what is left is distributed to beneficiaries named in the will or determined by the court.

It is important to remember what property goes through probate.

  • Personal property is probated in the state in which the deceased lived,
  • real estate goes through the process in the state in which it is located,
  • and non-probate assets avoid it altogether.

Non-probate assets are generally assets that are jointly owned or who automatically pass to someone else upon the owner’s death. For example, if one of the two partners of a law firm dies and they have a life insurance policy naming their spouse as the beneficiary, neither the firm nor the insurance payout go through probate.

Many people mistakenly believe probate should be avoided, that it is unnecessary, too complicated, or costs them money.

But with properly prepared estate planning documents, probate can be a quick and painless process.

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Planning ahead is a gift to your loved ones!