Probate is the process of obtaining an order of the court distributing any assets of the decedent that are not distributed as nonprobate assets. The probate process involves several steps, all of which may be handled in whole or in part by a probate paralegal.
First, the probate process must be commenced. This usually involves identifying the beneficiaries under the will and providing them with notice. A personal representative must be appointed. Creditors of the decedent must be identified.
Second, the property of the decedent must be identified. This is called
The probate paralegal should insist, to the extent possible, on being the central repository for all receipts, checks, bills, and other income and expenditures of the estate. This relieves the personal representative of the burden of monitoring the day-to-day administration of the estate and provides a central location for all the documents necessary to support a final accounting of the activities of the estate.
Third, the marshaling of assets must include an identification of liabilities as well. The estate must pay the expenses of the decedent's last illness and any unpaid taxes. Property that is subject to mortgages or liens must be identified and steps taken to preserve these assets.
Fourth, after the estate is marshaled, the property must be distributed. If the decedent left a will, it will probably describe who receives what. Problems can arise, however, when specific gifts refer to property that has not been located, property that is subject to a lien, or property that lacks sufficient value to satisfy a monetary bequest. If distribution is allowed, the paralegal will arrange for transfer of the asset and documentation of that transfer.
Fifth, the estate must respond to claims from creditors and other interested persons. Claims against the estate diminish the assets available for final distribution.
Finally, the estate must be closed. Closing an estate requires the permission of the court. Permission is granted based on a final accounting showing the proposed payment to creditors, the proposed distribution of any remaining assets, and the filing of tax returns.