The will is “proved” and delivered to the court. The deceased person’s will can be proved by an affidavit made under oath by the witnesses to the will. If such an affidavit is unavailable, the personal presence of the witnesses will be required in court to testify that at the time the will was signed, the deceased person was of sound mind and knew what he or she was doing.
A personal representative is selected. A personal representative is someone who handles the deceased person’s affairs. A will generally names a personal representative who, if willing to serve and otherwise qualified, will be approved by the court. If a person dies without a will, the court will select the personal representative, usually the spouse, an adult child or another close relative. If none of those people are available or willing to be the personal representative, the court may choose a bank, trust company or lawyer.
A notice to creditors is published in a local newspaper. This public notice to creditors tells the creditors that they have four months to bring any claim against the estate for debts the deceased person owes them. The personal representative also gives written notice to all known and possible creditors.
The heirs and people named in the will are notified of the probate proceeding.
Assets are identified and an inventory is prepared and filed with the court. The personal representative works to identify and value the deceased person’s assets. Depending upon the type of assets and the kind of records left by the deceased person, this step can be quite straightforward – or more difficult and time consuming.
Debts are paid. The personal representative ensures that creditors are paid. Creditors must be repaid from the estate before the remaining estate assets can be distributed to the rightful beneficiaries.
The personal representative prepares state and/or federal tax returns and any inheritance, gift and estate tax returns and pays any taxes due.
The personal representative prepares and submits an account to the people named in the will, the heirs of the deceased person and the court.
The account shows all money paid out from the estate and all money collected by the estate. It also contains a narrative explaining the important actions taken in connection with the probate of the estate.
After court approval of the account and payment of all unpaid probate expenses, the deceased person’s assets are distributed to the people and entities (such as charities or trusts) named in the will or, if the person died without a will, to the heirs of the deceased person.