Understanding Probate 101 – Most individuals aren’t sure what the term “Probate” actually means. They think of it only as a lengthy, costly, and drawn-out legal formality that takes place to handle a deceased person’s stuff. Technically, what Probate means is to prove the Will in a Probate Court proceeding. Some time ago, pretty much every single estate had to be reviewed and go before a judge before it could pass along to those named in the inheritance. However, nowadays, there are many different ways to transfer property upon death, some of which don’t require a formal court proceeding.
The term Probate is now often used in a broad scope to describe the entire process by which an estate is distributed and settled where there are no other estate planning provisions.
You need to understand from the get-go that the person who settles an estate, the Executor or Executrix, usually does not choose which property transfer methods to use. Whether you are required to use a more formal Probate or a more straightforward trust approach to transfer property at the time of death depends on how much or little planning the deceased person did to avoid Probate and how they held title to their stuff.
Both formal and nonformal Probate procedures involve filing papers at a court clerk’s office, usually in the county where the decedent resided at the time of death or owned property. In other words, most Probate matters don’t require that you appear in court before a judge. In fact, settling an estate by mail, by fax, or electronic filing is now the norm.
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