An executor under a will or an administrator is responsible for distributing assets of a deceased person to heirs and beneficiaries. However, before this happens, the deceased’s assets have to pass through probate: the legal process of documenting estate assets, paying valid estate debts, and ultimately transferring any remaining property to the parties designated in the will or by law.
What does probate involve?
During probate, the fiduciary works to settle estate affairs. The fiduciary’s first duties include notifying heirs and beneficiaries that probate has begun. The fiduciary is also responsible for inventorying and appraising estate assets, filing final income tax returns, and paying final expenses, including any valid claims on the estate.
Does all property go through probate?
Generally, all assets titled in the deceased’s name that are not transferable on death must pass through probate. However, some types of “non-probate” property can pass directly to designated parties. Assets that may bypass probate include:
- Retirement or insurance benefits payable to a named beneficiary
- Assets held in or directed to a trust
- Titled motor vehicle that are passing to a surviving spouse or that have a transfer on death beneficiary identified on the title
- Real estate property held in survivorship or with a properly filed transfer on death designation affidavit
- Accounts with payable on death beneficiaries or that will transfer on death to a named beneficiary
The length of time it takes to complete the probate process will depend on the size and complexity of the estate. A small estate without complex issues may take three to six months to resolve. However, if the estate is large or complex, it may take a year or more for the fiduciary to complete probate.