Instant Court Case Lookup
The following is for information purposes only
What is a Probate Court?
A probate court is a particular court that handles the deceased individual's assets and obligations.
In certain jurisdictions, the probate court is the surrogate's court, the orphan's court, or the chancery court.
In contrast to ordinary courts, probate courts only consider issues involving relatively particular categories of law. Also, not all jurisdictions have courts of probate.
What Does a Probate Court Do?
Probate courts and probate judges are responsible for many procedural, administrative, and legal issues about wills and estates. In general, probate courts execute the following functions:
- Supervising the distribution of the deceased's assets and property
- Determining the validity and legitimacy of an existing will
- Implementing the requirements of the valid will
- Preventing misbehavior by executors and estate administrators, such as fraud
- Determining whose descendants must inherit the decedent's property under the local regulations
- Evaluating the estate's debts, existing claims, and pending litigation
What Types of Cases are Handled by Probate Courts?
The term "probate court" refers to a sort of court that handles matters involving:
When a loved one dies, the estate often undergoes a court-controlled procedure known as probate or estate administration (the distribution of the deceased's assets).
If the dead person's assets were in a living trust that was correctly set up and funded, there probably wouldn't be a need for a court-supervised administration. However, the successor trustee must oversee the distribution of the deceased's assets.
In addition to assessing whether a person's will conforms to all state standards, a probate court will also consider issues arising from it.
The probate court must oversee the administration of any estate, appoint executors, and force trustees of testamentary trusts to provide quarterly reports.
Probate courts will also hear disputes about a person's medical treatment. Suppose an incompetent person leaves no advance medical directive or a vague direction. In that case, the court must determine who will make medical choices for the incapacitated person.
Conservatorships and Guardianships
The responsibility of selecting the legal guardian of a child or incapable adult falls to the probate courts. However, after the court has made its decision, it retains the authority to alter the guardianship if necessary.
The court may also appoint a conservator, a person who manages a physically disabled person's possessions and cares for the individual.
When individuals want to alter their names officially, they often need to go before the probate court.
This court supervises and allows legal name changes, such as those associated with adoption and marriage.
Furthermore, the probate court may also evaluate intestacy, which happens when a person dies without a valid will.
What are Probate Court Procedures?
The probate procedure starts with a petition filed in the court. A relative of a person mentioned in a will is often the individual who performs this task.
The court will next issue an order appointing a representative for the estate. This individual is commonly a personal representative or executor but may be an executor if there is a will and an administrator if there is no will.
It is the responsibility of the personal representative to administer the estate. It includes the following:
- Creating an estate bank account
- Arranging or publishing legal notifications
- Determining the legitimacy of creditors' claims and paying them, particularly for funeral and final medical expenses
- Sending notifications to recipients
- Selling assets (if necessary)
- Submitting court documents
- Filing the last tax return on behalf of the deceased
- Transferring assets to recipients
Typically, the personal representative retains a probate attorney to help with some of these responsibilities.
Filing Through the Probate Court
You may file a claim with a probate court if you have estate-related issues.
When bringing a probate court case, you must supply the following:
- Facts of the fight or disagreement
- Will or other estate papers
- List of parties participating in estate distribution
- Beneficiaries list
- List of the disputed property
- Any outstanding claims or obligations
- Your request to the court
Probate Court Hearing
It is essential to understand that the probate procedure varies per state. Most states have adopted the Uniform Probate Code (UPC) to streamline the probate procedure. It makes probate administration simpler and less costly. States that have implemented the UPC often do so to standardize the interstate probate procedure.
Some states simplify the probate procedure for smaller estates. A smaller estate generally has less than $100,000 in total property worth. However, state law determines what constitutes a small estate.
If your estate fits specific criteria, your state may enable you to bypass the entire probate procedure. In Texas, for instance, an individual can submit a Small Estate Affidavit to transfer property to a decedent's heirs if the estate's worth is less than $75,000.00.
It does not include the primary residence or other exempt property. As of January 1, 2020, California probate courts will enable a deceased with an estate worth less than $166,250.00 to transfer assets to their heirs and bypass a formal probate case.
A probate court hearing would change based on the estate's needs and whether it left a will. It is crucial to contact the attorney helping you with the probate procedure while preparing for a hearing. At the hearing, your attorney will notify you of the questions.
The court may challenge your capacity to be a designated executor if you attend a probate hearing. You may undergo interrogation about your connection with the deceased if you have a criminal record. Disputed wills may complicate probate court proceedings.
Probate Court With a Will
The probate court evaluates whether a deceased individual left a will.
If there is a will, the probate procedure may be simplified, notably if the deceased appointed a known individual as administrator or executor of the estate.
Probate Court Without a Will
When an individual dies without a will, the probate court distributes their assets to their closest relatives. It is known as the law of intestate succession, specifying the proportional distribution of assets among surviving spouses, siblings, grandchildren, uncles, aunts, and other relatives.
If there is no will, the courts will appoint an administrator/executor who will be responsible for tying up the loose ends of the estate.
The Cost of Probate
The probate expenses include court filing fees, expenditures for printing notices in newspapers, and executor and attorney's fees. If the estate is intricate, there may also be additional expenses.
A probate attorney's fees depend on an hourly rate, a percentage of the estate's worth, or a mix of the two.
When heirs dispute a will, the process becomes more time-consuming and costly.
Probate and Taxes
Numerous states demand a tax payment, often depending on the number of the probate estate's assets and commonly known as an estate tax or an inheritance tax. Some states levy the tax only if the estate's worth reaches a particular threshold.
The Unified Gift and Estate Tax may apply if the estate's worth reaches a particular threshold. The monetary points for this tax fluctuate from year to year. In 2015, an estate's value must be $5.42 million before the tax applies.
How Long Do Probate Court Procedures Take?
It is crucial to remember that the length of time it may take for a case to be resolved by the probate court may vary substantially depending on each state's regulations. In Texas, for instance, a probate court has six months to four years to process wills and estates.
It might take anything from two months up to three years in New York, with an average of fifteen months.
In certain jurisdictions, the finalization of probate will be within a year after a person's death, but in others, intricate probate court proceedings may take up to two years or more.
What are the Differences Between Probate and Estate Administration?
At the end of a person's life, the legal procedure guarantees that the decedent's estate is not left unclaimed. Different components of this legal procedure include probate and estate administration.
To summarize the distinction between probate and estate administration, probate is a subset of the more significant estate administration procedure. It gives you the legal authority to proceed with estate administration. Even though probate isn't always necessary, estate administration must always be done, no matter how big or complicated the estate is.
Where to Find Probate Court Records?
Because probate files are publicly accessible court documents, you can have a copy of any will submitted for probate. With the advent of contemporary technology, it is now possible to get information about a deceased person's estate online and in most circumstances.
In most cases, a filed estate is in the county where the dead individual lived or had property. You can check online for the proper county name by entering the city where the deceased individual resided or held an estate.
If you can't find the probate court dockets online, try these:
- Ask for help at the probate court in person. In most situations, the clerk can search for the estate using the decedent's legal name. If an estate is open, you can inspect the probate file and get copies of relevant papers.
- Call the probate court for document copies.
- Ask an estate planning attorney near the probate court for help acquiring probate paperwork. The office may charge a fee for their services, but if you don't live nearby, it will save you travel costs.