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For many people, the word “Probate” creates an uneasy feeling. Much of this feeling has to do with the possibility of taxes being owed. Estate taxes are not an issue in the majority of estates. A simple explanation of the purpose and process should easy one’s concerns.

What is Probate?

Probate is the ending of one’s “legal” life. Each individual has a “physical” life, where he or she eats, sleeps and pursues happiness. Every person also has a “legal” life where he or she makes car payments, owns property and works. When an individual passes away, their physical life is over at the moment of their passing yet their legal life continues until it is closed. For example, bills and bank statements may continue to arrive for the deceased. These documents will not stop coming until the creditor or other business entity is officially informed of the death of the individual. Then, debt must be paid or disputed or the account must be closed. Probate is the process by which an individuals’ “legal” life is closed.

Each case is different, therefore, Mr. Collins will meet with the relatives of the deceased and discuss all aspects of the case and the procedures that must be taken. Mr. Collins will guide the family through the process with sensitivity and make his primary goal to make the process as easy as possible. However, in a nut-shell, probate works as such:

Documents are drafted for the court with information about the deceased and his or her next-of-kin. If a Will is presented, then the person named as Executor will be in charge of supplying the needed information and working directly with Mr. Collins. If no Will is available, then a relative (usually a spouse or child) will work with Mr. Collins. After the information is gathered, then a court hearing will be set. Mr. Collins will accompany the named executor or administrator to the hearing and insure that all necessary documents are submitted and signed by the judge. Following the hearing, a court order will be issued granting the executor or administrator authority to access any accounts the deceased had including bank accounts, retirement accounts, stock brokerage accounts. Also, the executor or administrator will have the right to settle or dispute any debts that are outstanding. Once all debts are paid and the assets have been distributed according to the Will or to the family members, Mr. Collins will then request the court to close the case. Once closed, a creditor can no longer seek payment from the estate.