Probate is the court process by which a will is proved valid or invalid and the legal process by which the estate of a deceased person (called the decedent, or testator) is administered. When a person dies, his or her estate must go through probate, which is overseen by a probate court. If the deceased person leaves a will directing how his or her property should be distributed after death, the probate court must determine if it should be admitted to probate and given legal effect. In other words, they must decide if the will is valid.
If the decedent dies “intestate,” that is, without leaving a will, the probate court will appoint a Personal Representative to distribute the decedent’s property according to the laws of “Descent and Distribution” in the state where the deceased lived. These laws direct the distribution of assets based on hereditary succession (“next of kin”). If the decedent also has assets in additional states, the case will most likely go through probate there as well, especially if there is real estate involved. The probate court’s main objective is to carry out the declared intention of a testator regarding his or her assets and property; the court only resorts to distributing property according to the law of Descent and Distribution when no other options exist.
In protecting your assets, you want to avoid statutory distribution. You can significantly minimize the time and money your loved ones have to spend going through probate by planning ahead, sometimes saving tens of thousands of dollars depending on the size of your estate. That’s why it’s often said that a good estate planning and probate attorney, like Sean Tanko, is worth his weight in gold.
Sean will listen closely to your situation, and then advise you of the best way to handle your estate, whether that means setting up a will, trust, guardianship, or other legal document. Drafting and filing these legal documents are the best way to give your family members the most freedom when you die and to settle your affairs as soon as possible. Sean knows that their peace of mind is one of your most significant concerns. He can help move probate along with the least amount of delay and expense possible, keeping your family members informed throughout the process. In some cases, he can avoid probate entirely.
Sean Tanko provides trust administration and beneficiary representation. In cases where planning did not occur beforehand, he can also mediate any disagreements among family members concerning competing documents or other issues, and work with the executor of the will (the person the deceased selected to carry out the will’s intentions) to make necessary decisions and distribute proceeds.