Your loved one has passed away. What happens next? Many people assume that if your loved one left a will, you will not have to use the probate process. However, this is not always the case. Ultimately, there are three steps to begin the probate process: (1) filing with the court; (2) giving notice to all interested persons; and (3) receiving official authorization from the court.

The probate process is utilized if your loved one has more than $50,000 in personal property (including bank accounts, cash, and stocks) or owns real estate in his or her name alone.

The first step is to file a petition for probate with the court. One important caution though: if creditors have already filed a demand for payment against your loved one, you must give these creditors two-weeks’ advance notice before filing. The time for filing is between five days and three years after your loved one has passed away.

Once the petition is filed and accepted by the court, your next step is to give notice to anyone who might be entitled to a part of your loved one’s estate. This includes a surviving spouse, children, and creditors. Notice is given by both mailing a letter (to those interested persons you are aware of) and publishing a notice in the local legal paper. You will then file an affidavit with the court swearing you gave notice to all interested persons.

Once you have completed the above steps, the court will issue a document called “Letters Testamentary” or “Letter of Administration.” In a nutshell, this document tells the world that you have the authority, as the Personal Representative, to act on behalf of your loved one’s estate.

You are now officially allowed to all the things we expect a Personal Representative to be able to do—things like collecting and distributing your loved one’s assets, paying his or her bills, and filing estate and income tax returns. The “how” and “when” of these duties will depend on if your loved one left a will and if the probate process is formal or informal—circumstances that will be unique to each case.

Does this sound like a lot to take in? It does not have to be! The attorneys at Rochford & Langins are here to assist you in at every step of the probate process so that it goes as smoothly as possible. Call us anytime at 507-534-3119.