The concept of probate court can be daunting. When a person passes away, probate court is often a necessary part of allocating and distributing their assets. However, this process can be complicated and can often trigger emotional responses in family and friends. If you have recently lost a loved one, you are probably dealing with grief and stress. Adding going to court to the equation can cause even more anxiety. That’s why we have compiled this reference for those dealing with the probate process.
Read on for more on what to expect in probate court.
What is Probate Court?
Probate court is the legal process of managing a deceased person’s assets and debts. The court ensures that creditors receive the funds they are due and that assets are distributed as intended. It also guarantees that the decedent’s wishes are honored and respected. To begin the probate process, the executor of the will must file with the county court where the decedent lived. If there is no will, the court will oversee management of the estate.
How Long Does Probate Court Take?
Probate usually lasts for a few months. However, sometimes cases are complex and require more time. In some cases, probate can last over a year. The major determining factor when it comes to the timeline is usually whether a will has been drafted. Estate size, challenges to the will, and other complicated business can also cause probate to take longer.
The full timeline of the probate process often consists of:
- Petition filed
- First hearing
- Letters of administration
- Issuance of bond
- Inventory of assets
- Distribution of assets
The First Hearing
At the first hearing in probate court, the executor will be identified or chosen. Ideally, someone will have been named as executor in advance by the decedent. The court will need to approve this decision regardless and grant them the necessary power to act on behalf of the estate.
The court will likely ask about the relationship between the executor and the decedent. They may ask other questions to establish the executor’s ability to manage the estate. In most cases, it will approve the designated person. However, in some cases, this can vary. For example, the appointed person may no longer wish or be able to act on behalf of the estate. Another heir may also dispute the choice of executor. In these cases, the court can appoint someone else.
They will then issue letters testamentary which state that they have the authority to make decisions for the estate.
Authenticating the Will
The court will need to authenticate the last will and testament of the person who has passed. Generally, this means reviewing documents to make sure they are proper and legal. Working with a wills and estates attorney is essential to ensuring your documentation is legitimate.
What Questions are Asked in Probate Court?
Probate court does vary based on the presiding judge. However, some common questions asked in probate court include:
- When did the deceased person pass away?
- Is there outstanding business of any kind?
- Who are the beneficiaries?
- Have the beneficiaries been served with the petition for probate administration?
- Is there a will?
Your probate attorney will examine the petition ahead of court to ensure all of these matters are in order. In most cases, the judge will be aware before court that the estate meets the necessary requirements, but they may ask some questions for further clarification.
The Second Hearing
After the first hearing, it is the executor’s responsibility to carry out the wishes of the decedent. This includes giving formal notice to all heirs and creditors. It also includes valuing the assets. A probate attorney can help with this process, which can be complicated. All creditors must be paid to settle the decedent’s debts, and taxes must be paid for the estate.
Once this is done, the executor must file a petition to request a final distribution. This petition must be approved by the court during the second hearing. The judge will then review all of the actions taken by the executor to make sure they were performed correctly and in accordance with the decedent’s wishes. This includes how the assets were distributed, whether debts were paid, and so on. If the judge finds that these things have been done properly, they will sign the petition, and the estate will be closed.
This second hearing often occurs 10 months to one year after the initial probate petition was filed.
If you have been named the executor of an estate and need assistance with Maryland probate, contact Blackford & Flohr. We offer expertise and experience with every element of the wills and estates process. We can also help you identify an executor for your own estate and file all of the necessary documentation. Call 410-647-6677 to speak to a Maryland probate attorney today.