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Are There Benefits to Probate?

If you recently lost a loved one, you may be wondering what you're supposed to do next and what will happen to his or her assets and property. When most people die where they leave behind real property and assets, their estate will typically go through the probate process.

Probate is a court-monitored legal proceeding which receives and proves the decedent's will, names an executor to administrate the estate (this is the person designated in the will), pays off all claims and debts against the estate and distributes the remaining assets to the beneficiaries named in the will. If the decedent died without a will, then this process is referred to as administration and the court appoints an "administrator" to settle the estate. While executors and administrators have different titles, their functions are virtually the same.

As a beneficiary who is unfamiliar with the probate process, you may be surprised by the long, drawn-out court procedure which you are at the mercy of. While it may take six months to a year for a probated estate to be closed (even longer in the case of will contests), the probate process serves several purposes and once you understand them, it can make it easier to accept the waiting period.

Once the will is proven to be valid, the next step will be to appoint an executor whose responsibility will be to collect the estate's assets, have them valued, pay off creditors' claims, file taxes and lastly, distribute the property to the heirs according to the will. This is a court-supervised endeavor in which the executor is not only monitored, but he or she must comply with specific procedures and legal requirements. This is an important benefit, particularly for beneficiaries since the courts won't stand for dishonorable or unethical conduct by personal representatives (executors or trustees). Other benefits of probate include:

  • Personal representatives are required to provide detailed, periodic accountings
  • Personal representatives are ordered by the court to pay debts from the estate
  • The court can order and regulate the distribution of the estate property
  • The court requires that the custodian of the will produces it within 30 days after the will-maker's death
  • The probate petition must include the names, ages and residence of the heirs and all other beneficiaries
  • All beneficiaries receive notice of hearings by mail
  • Any person interested in the estate has the right to contest the will

The probate court not only monitors all of the actions of the executor, but it provides an open forum where anyone can contest the will for reasons concerning: 1) mental incapacity of the decedent to make a will, 2) duress, 3) fraud, 4) undue influence, and 5) any other reasons questioning the validity of the will.

For more information regarding the probate process and how it can protect the rights of beneficiaries, contact Oklahoma City probate attorney Elizabeth A. Richards Attorney at Law at (405) 788-4662.