Probate. It’s one of those words people have heard before but often don’t really understand. And that, in and of itself, is understandable! Unless you’ve had hands-on experience with probate and its processes, it can sound intimidating…and also not that pressing to consider.
But hear us out: everyone can benefit from learning what probate is and how it works. Going through the probate process is frequently part of settling the estate of a deceased loved one, which is an emotional time. And the last thing you need is extra confusion or stress!
In this post, we’ll walk you through the basics of probate and how you can make the process easier.
What is probate?
Put simply, probate is the legal process through which a last will and testament is presented to the court.
During this process, the court authenticates the document and accepts it as the genuine last will and testament of the deceased person (known as the decedent). Then, the court appoints an executor/trustee or state-appointed administrator to carry out various tasks and responsibilities.
This process is essential because it ensures that the decedent’s wishes are respected and carried out according to legal standards.
Steps in the probate process
The probate process can be intricate, and each state handles it differently. However, it generally follows a set sequence of steps:
- Authentication of the will
- Appointment of an executor/trustee or administrator to carry out the remaining steps
- Gathering assets, including bank accounts, properties, prized possessions, and stocks
- Notifying creditors and paying off debts with certain assets
- Filing income and estate tax returns
- Distribution of the remaining assets
- Closing the estate by filing the final set of papers with the court
Why are death certificates important in the probate process?
The death certificate is the official document that sets the wheels of the probate process in motion. It provides clear proof to the court that the decedent is, in fact, deceased, so it’s typically a required part of the filings submitted to the court.
But it does more than just open the court doors. It’s also essential for various financial transactions.
Without a death certificate, the executor or administrator of a will can’t complete essential tasks like:
- Transferring funds in bank accounts set to pass to heirs upon death
- Life insurance payouts
- Distribution of IRA and 401(k) funds
The accuracy of the death certificate is also key. Errors can lead to delays, whether they’re clerical errors like a misspelled name or major errors like an incorrect decedent name, spouse name, or birthdate. If there is an error on a death certificate, you’ll have to revisit the issuing authority to get it corrected before you can proceed with the probate process.
For these reasons, it’s best to make sure you possess a death certificate and that all the information contained in it is correct before you begin the probate process.
How to request a death certificate
You may be wondering: How do I get a death certificate? If you’re an immediate family member looking to gather documents for probate, you may request a death certificate from a local government entity.
If you’re in Texas, you can order a death certificate through the Texas Department of Health and Human Services. You can also obtain vital records for your state through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
How to streamline to probate process
Facing the probate process can feel daunting, but there are a few practical steps you can take to make it more manageable. Consider three ways to streamline the probate process.
1. Be organized
Ideally, you should have all essential documents accessible and sorted so that an executor/trustee or administrator can easily identify assets, insurance policies, retirement accounts, debts, and other items.
2. Communicate openly with beneficiaries
Keeping beneficiaries informed about what’s happening, the expected timelines and any challenges can reduce their anxiety and uncertainty. When everyone is informed and aware of how the probate process is proceeding, things are smoother and more efficient.
3. Work with a probate attorney
A probate attorney can make a world of difference when you’re dealing with the probate process because it is complex. They can provide guidance, answer questions, and ensure you’re following the necessary steps accurately (and on time).
Navigate probate smoothly with a Texas attorney
At the law firm of Shann M. Chaudhry Esq., Attorney at Law PLLC, we care deeply about helping our clients protect the things that matter most to them.
Our team of experienced, service-oriented Texas probate attorneys can organize and maintain all necessary probate information for all our clients who need trusts. We also help clients with will-based estate plans to manage their estate planning documents and execution.
If you have further questions about probate, contact our offices to schedule an affordable consultation today. We’re here to help!