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Unwrapping the mystery of probate

After a loved one dies, you and your family will likely experience many endings and closings. Among these is the process of probate, which legally closes a deceased person's estate, pays any lingering debts and distributes the remaining assets.

To many, probate is a mystery since it seldom takes place in the public eye. It may seem to you that your loved one's probate is a long period of waiting, seemingly for no reason. However, many things are taking place while you wait, and you may benefit from understanding those steps and their purposes.

Typical steps to probate

Ohio has its own laws regarding the details of probate, including what happens if your loved one did not have a will or other estate plan in place at the time of death. However, the same elements of probate are similar across the country.

Probate begins when a survivor of the deceased petitions the court to begin the process. If there is a will, the court will determine whether the will is valid and authentic. Your loved one may have named someone to be the executor of the estate. Otherwise, the court will appoint someone. The executor will handle many of the tasks of probate, including:

  • Gathering the assets of the deceased
  • Protecting and appraising the assets
  • Locating all the heirs named in the will or those indicated by state law if there is no will
  • Identifying and verifying any creditors to whom the deceased owed money, including the IRS
  • Allowing the creditors a certain amount of time to claim their debt
  • Paying all debts, including filing final income tax return and paying any federal estate taxes
  • Selling assets if the estate does not have enough money to cover the debts

When time elapses for the creditors to make their claims, the court will authorize the distribution of the assets, which the executor will handle appropriately.

Keeping things on track

As you can see, the executor has many weighty and often tedious responsibilities. He or she will also be dealing with heirs who may be impatient for their inheritances or concerned that the executor is not handling the assets properly. If these concerns turn into challenges, the probate process may stall while the court sorts things out.

Whether you are an heir who is troubled by an executor's actions or you are overwhelmed by the duties of administrating the estate of your loved one, you can seek help and guidance from a legal professional. Estate attorneys have experience in handling the details of probate as well as any contests that may arise among heirs.

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