Probate court can seem a bit mysterious as you imagine a somber courtroom with a judge presiding over it. Make no mistake about it, probate is a somber and highly regulated legal affair, but everything that happens there is actually public knowledge. While probate laws differ from place to place, most perform the same or similar functions like those listed below. To find out what to expect from a probate court, read on.

Why Probate Courts Exist

In most counties in the US, probate encompasses far more than just dealing with a last will and testament. However, it's the probate process that oversees the deceased's final wishes that can seem puzzling. Some have likely heard about using an estate plan to avoid probate, and that can make it seem like a dreadful thing. Instead, probate is the legal method of making sure that those owed money by the deceased get paid, if possible, and more.

The Will is Validated

To be probated, the will has to be legal and signed by the deceased. The signatures are checked, witnesses are verified, and the will is examined to ensure it doesn't contain illegal provisions. For instance, you cannot leave property to a pet in most states, so that provision would probably be struck down during the will validation process. This can take several weeks depending on how busy the probate court is.

A Personal Representative is Validated or Named

The personal representative (or executor) will be officially approved, and if someone is not indicated in the will, one will be named. Usually, a surviving spouse or adult child will be asked to the job. Personal representatives work alongside probate or estate lawyers to help carry out the wishes of the deceased. Some common jobs of the personal representative include:

  • Arranging for an appraisal of any real estate owned by the deceased (unless the deed contains the names of other living owners).
  • Keeping property safe and in good condition throughout the probate process.
  • Paying certain bills and filing final tax returns.
  • Making sure the beneficiaries of the will get their property once probate is over.

And more.

When Issues Arise

Anyone can file a protest against the will or any part of it by contesting the will. This means delays are inevitable because separate hearings and legal maneuvers will occur. Will contents can take months (if not years) to resolve. No one gets their inheritance until things are settled and probate is final.

To find out more about what goes on in probate court and how to speed things up, speak to a probate lawyer.