Understanding Probate

There are a lot of popular misconceptions about every aspect of estate planning and administration, but perhaps the most widely misunderstood element in this area of the law is the role of probate court.

Probate is the process by which the legal system deals with a deceased person's assets. After a person dies, all of his or her assets are lumped together as an estate. The role of probate court is to distribute the estate.

Typically, a probate judge reviews any estate planning documents and distributes assets to beneficiaries and creditors. However, the details can vary greatly from one case to another. On this page, we will try to answer some commonly asked questions on probate matters.

Why Must A Court Get Involved?

If there is a will, the probate court reviews it to make sure it meets all the formal requirements. In some cases, relatives or other interested parties go before the court to challenge the validity of the will. If the will does not meet all the requirements, the court will find it invalid.

What If There Is No Will?

If there is no valid will, the court will determine how to distribute assets according to one-size-fits-all guidelines under state law. This can take a long time, and all the court costs can take a big bite out of the estate.

In some cases, when the court follows state guidelines, a distant relative who never met the deceased will inherit everything, while a longtime companion receives nothing. One of the strongest arguments for creating an estate plan is to make sure you make the decisions about who will inherit your assets, including real estate, financial assets and items of sentimental value.

Is There A Way To Avoid Probate?

While the probate process isn't necessarily a bad thing, it does take time, and court fees can take a bite out of the estate. Many people try to minimize the time and costs of probate by finding a skilled estate planning lawyer to help them create a living trust.

As noted on our estate planning page, a trust is an instrument that divides ownership of assets between a trustee and beneficiaries. The trustee manages the assets and distributes the assets to the beneficiaries as directed by the trust.

While trusts can be created in conjunction with a will, they can also go into effect during a person's lifetime. When the person dies, the assets in the trust are under control of the trustee and are not part of the estate of the deceased. Therefore, these assets do not have to go through probate.

A Plan That Suits Your Needs

Estate plans can meet many different needs and serve many different ends. To talk about your options for estate planning, or for help with probate, call The Law Office of Jeremiah P. Murray today at 708-568-0467. You can also contact the office by email.

The Law Office of Jeremiah P. Murray helps individuals and families in Oak Lawn, Illinois, and the surrounding area.