Probate is the process by which a deceased person’s property, known as the “estate”, is passed to his or her heirs and legates (people named in the will). The entire process usually takes about a year however interim distributions may be allowed.
To start the process, a petition for probate of the will must be filed with the probate court, along with the original will and a certified copy of the death certificate. If there is no will, a petition for administration can be filed. Notice must be mailed to all of the decedent’s heirs at law (usually the surviving spouse, children, and children of any deceased children), to those named as beneficiaries in the will, and, if a charity is involved or there are no heirs at law, to the Attorney General. Notice must be also published in a local newspaper. If no one objects by a deadline set up by the court, the personal representative named in the will is appointed by the court.
The personal representative is responsible for collecting the probate property and for paying any debts of the estate. The personal representative must file with the probate court an itemized list, known as an “inventory” of the probate property, including the value of each item.
Creditors of the estate have one year from the date of death to bring claims against the estate. For this reason, personal representatives must wait until this claim period has expired to complete distribution of the estate.