Most people have little experience dealing with what happens after their loved one dies and they get appointed as Personal Representative/Executor to settle the estate. The purpose of this guide is to provide a general overview of the six steps required to probate an estate.
Before being appointed to serve as Personal Representative/Executor, the first step in probating an estate is to locate all of the decedent's estate planning documents and other important papers.
The decedent's estate planning documents may include a Last Will and Testament, funeral, cremation, burial or memorial instructions, and/or a Revocable Living Trust. The original documents should be stored in a safe place until they can be given to the estate attorney.
The decedent's important papers will include information about the decedent's assets, including bank and brokerage statements, stock and bond certificates, life insurance policies, corporate records, car and boat titles, and deeds; and information about the decedent's debts, including utility bills, credit card bills, mortgages, personal loans, medical bills and the funeral bill. Refer to What Documents Are Needed After Someone Dies? for a detailed list of the specific documents that will need to be located. From these documents a list should be made of what the decedent owned and owed, how each asset is titled (in the decedent's individual name, as a tenant in common, in joint names, or in a trust), and, for assets and debts that have a statement, the value of the asset or debt as listed on the statement and the date of the statement. In addition, the decedent's prior three years of income tax returns should be set aside.
Once the decedent's important documents have been sorted through, the next is to meet with an estate lawyer to open the estate with the probate court.Probate Checklist - 6 Steps to Probating an Estate