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Understanding the probate process

| May 28, 2021 | Estate Planning |

When someone dies and leaves a will, most of the time the estate goes through probate. Probate is the legal process in which the judge makes sure everyone involved follows the terms of the will.

If a loved one of yours died, you may be wondering what to expect from the probate process and how long it takes.

Initial probate process

According to the New York State Unified Court System, during the initial stages of probate, the judge will review the will and make sure it is valid. The judge also allows for a certain period of time for anyone to come forward to challenge the will prior to granting probate. If the will names an executor, the judge officially appoints him or her. If the will does not name an executor of the estate, the judge will choose someone to carry out the wishes of the decedent.

According to New York law, a will only goes through the probate process if the estate is worth more than $30,000. An estate valued less than that goes through a simple administration process instead of probate. Also, assets that have a named beneficiary, such as a retirement account or life insurance policy, do not go through probate.

Role of the executor during probate

To begin the process, the executor files in Surrogate Court and produces the original will. The filed petition includes the death date, named beneficiaries and an estimate of the estate’s value. The main job of the judge from this point on is to ensure that proper management of the estate occurs, which is mostly the executor’s job. During probate, the executor:

  • Inventories and values the assets
  • Secures property and assets
  • Locates beneficiaries and distributes assets to appropriate parties
  • Pays bills and collects debts of the estate
  • Files and pays estate taxes

After the distribution of all assets and the final tax filing of the estate, the judge officially settles and closes the estate. The entire probate process can take months or even years, depending on the complexity of the estate.