The main purpose for probate is transferring title of a decedent's property to their heirs and beneficiaries. If there is no property to transfer, there is usually no need for probate. Another function of probate is to provide for the collection of any taxes due by reason of the deceased’s death or on the transfer of their property. The probate process also provides a mechanism for payment of outstanding debts and taxes of the estate, for setting a deadline for creditors to f...ile claims, and for the distribution of the remainder of the estate’s property to ones’ rightful heirs.
Generally, probate, or in the case of smaller estates, a less formal procedure, is necessary before a decedent’s property can be legally distributed. Even if a person dies with a Will, a court generally has to have an opportunity to allow others to object to the Will, and if there any objections, to determine if the Will is valid. For example, there is always the possibility that:
* there was a later Will (which, if valid, would replace the older Will), or
* the Will was made at a time the deceased was not mentally competent to make a Will, or
* the Will was the result of fraud, mistake or “undue influence” or
the Will was not properly executed, or
* the so-called Will is actually a forgery, or
* for some other reason (such as a pre-existing contract) the Will is not fully valid, or
* there are other claims against the deceased’s estate that impact what the beneficiaries under the Will would receive.
The Personal Representative (formerly referred to as the “executor” if there is a Will, or the “administrator” if there is no Will) is appointed as part of the probate proceeding and has the responsibility for managing the estate through the proceeding, subject to established rules and procedures. A PR's main responsibilities are as follows:
* determine if there are any probate assets;
* identify, gather, and inventory the assets of the deceased;
* receive payments due the estate, including interest, dividends, and other income (e.g., unpaid salary, vacation pay, and other company benefits);
* set up a checking account for the estate;
* figure out who is going to get what and how much under the Will (if there is no Will, the state’s “interstate succession laws” apply);
* value or appraise the estate’s assets;
* give legal notice to potential creditors;
* investigate the validity of all claims against the estate;
* pay funeral bills, outstanding debts, and valid claims;
* pay the expenses of administrating the estate;
* handle various paperwork, such as discontinuing utilities and charge cards, and notifying Social Security and the VA of the death;
* file and pay income and estate taxes (if necessary);
* distribute the remaining property in accordance with the instructions provided in the deceased’s Will; and
* close probate.
If you have questions about probate in Washington or Idaho, give us a call at 253.858.5434 to see how we can be of service.