Probate is a system that pretty much everyone in the United States has to deal with at some point in their lives. The process of probate occurs after someone has passed and their loved ones are left to process their belonging.

Going through probate and dealing with probate court can seem like a twisted maze, especially if you are trying to cope with the loss of a loved one. Read on to arm yourself with knowledge about what probate is and how to handle probate in various scenarios.

What Is Probate?

Probate is the legal process of distributing someone’s estate after his or her death, and probate court is simply the court system that conducts the process. The court also handles the deceased person’s debt. The judge ensures that the debts are paid off or managed. Probate court is also where people can contest a will’s validity if they so desire.

The Process

1. The Start

People file a petition for probate with the court to begin the probate process. In Florida, the family files the last will and testament before or alongside the petition. The next of kin must submit the will to the court within ten days of learning that the testator has passed.

2. Establishing A Representative

There needs to be a personal representative to communicate with the court and follow through on probate decisions. A last will and testament names a specific person, who is called an executor. If there is no will, that person may be called an administrator. This representative is responsible for the legal and economic proceedings of the estate. Many times, this is when professional legal expertise is most helpful because the “to do” list is exhausting otherwise.

3. Determining Validity

After the personal representative is appointed, the court must determine the validity of the will. Wills can be “self-proven” to guarantee validity. The court defines “self-proven” as a will that the testator and witnesses sign in front of a notary. The same people sign an affidavit as well. Legal experts consider a self-proven will ideal. However, Florida doesn’t require a will to be self-proven. If a will is not self-proven, one of the witnesses signs an affidavit that the signatures on a will are authentic. Then comes more paperwork!

4. The Accounting

The administrator or executor must file an “accounting”. The accounting is essentially the formal plan for dividing up an estate and distributing everything in accordance with the will and/or state laws. The representative distributes a copy of the accounting to all relevant parties. Relevant parties include beneficiaries of the will and family members of the deceased. Those who receive a copy of the accounting have 30 days to object to it. The court will formally review the accounting. A judge will either order the representative to make changes to the accounting or approve it as is.

5. Distribution

The court distributes the estate by dividing property, money, and items according to the court approved accounting. Probate court also ensures that the estate pays funeral costs and medical debts.

6. The End

The final step is to legally close the estate. The representative pays off the debts, and distributes the remaining estate to beneficiaries. The executor or administrator provides proof of this to the court. The court orders the closing of the estate and discharges the representative once all tasks are completed.