Probate Without a Will

When someone dies without a will, those left behind must figure out how to transfer or distribute the deceased person’s property. This often requires going to probate court. Despite the negative publicity probate receives for being complicated and expensive, there are benefits to going through probate without a will.

First, let’s review some probate basics. When you die without a will, this is known as dying intestate. Each state has established guidelines on how property and other assets will be distributed when a person dies intestate. These guidelines are known as state “intestate succession” laws. These laws control how your estate in handled in probate court. Read on to learn more about how probate without a will works.

Benefits of Probate When There’s No Will

Look around your home or apartment, then imagine what would happen if you were suddenly gone. You died and didn’t leave a will. Who would clean your house and where would your belongings go? And what if your heirs started fighting over who kept your dog?

Probate court provides a final decision to many unanswered legalquestions that arise when you die without a will. So here’s why you may want to go to probate without a will:

  • Cuts Off Creditor Claims: After someone close to your dies, the last thing you want is call from debt collectors. Depending on the laws of your state, beginning probate can reduce the time creditors can file claims to as few as three months.
  • Resolves Conflicting Claims to Property: Inheriting property doesn’t always bring out the best in people. Probate doesn’t guarantee heirs won’t litigate disputes over property. But intestate succession laws applied by the court to distribute property can give closure to some disputes. Generally, your heirs include your surviving spouse, siblings, aunts and uncles, nieces, nephews, and distant relatives. The order of who takes first in intestacy is governed by state law. When no relatives can be found, the entire estate goes to the state.
  • Transfers Title: Unless real property is held in a trust or some form of joint ownership, it typically needs to go through probate to transfer the name on the title.

What’s the Role of the Court?

State courts typically contain a designated probate division, commonly called probate court. Its primary job is to oversee the process that lawfully resolves all debts, taxes and financial affairs of people who die. Probate court also ensures the remaining assets go to the proper people.

Probate court selects the estate administrator when you die without a will. Generally the surviving spouse is appointed. If there is not a spouse, or they decline, the court will appoint the next nearest relative. Some states have residency requirements for administrators, which can create serious issues for families that are spread across the country.

Starting Probate Without a Will

When a person dies, someone needs to do the work of closing out their estate. If you want to start probate without a will by serving as the administrator, you typically start by filing a petition in probate court. Here’s a step-by-step look at how to get the process going.

  • Step 1: Review the deceased person’s assets to see if the estate qualifies for a small estate probate exemption. You will need to establish a value to the estate and produce an itemized list of all property needing distribution.
  • Step 2: Determine in which county you’ll file probate proceeding. Generally, it’s the county in the state where the person lived. If they own a home, it may be the county where the home is located.
  • Step 3: Bring a certified copy of the death certificate to the courthouse and request forms to Petition for Letters of Administration. By filing this document, you’re asking the court to act as personal representative of the estate.
  • Step 4: Complete and file the form requesting administration. You should be prepared to provide the names and address’ of all living relatives.
  • Step 5: You’re required to let everyone know you’re petitioning for probate. You’ll need to publish in local newspaper or other forms designed to inform people that a Notice of Petition to Administer Estate. Family members will need notice sent to their homes. This serves as a Notice to all creditors to file their claims against the estate. Creditors usually have four months to file their claims.
  • Step 6: Your petition is granted unless another more suitable representative comes forward.

Have Questions About Probate? Receive a Free Case Review

Getting through probate can be a full-time job. It can feel like there’s an endless array of forms to file and deadlines to meet. To make matters worse, you can be held personally liable for errors made during the probate process. When you have probate questions, seek help from an experienced attorney. Receive a free case review and make the process easier for you and your loved ones.

Next Steps

Contact a qualified estate planning attorney to help with the probate process.

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