Wills and Probate

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A will or testament is a legal declaration by which a person, the testator, names one or more persons to manage his estate and provides for the transfer of his property at death. For the devolution of property not disposed of by will, see inheritance and intestacy.

In the strictest sense, a "will" has historically been limited to real property while "testament" applies only to dispositions of personal property (thus giving rise to the popular title of the document as "Last Will and Testament"), though this distinction is seldom observed today. A will may also create a testamentary trust that is effective only after the death of the testator.

Wills

Probate

Probate is the legal process of administering the estate of a deceased person by resolving all claims and distributing the deceased person's property under the valid will. A surrogate court decides the validity of a testator's will. A probate interprets the instructions of the deceased, decides the executor as the personal representative of the estate, and adjudicates the interests of heirs and other parties who may have claims against the estate.

As with any legal proceeding, there are technical aspects to probate and trust administration: Creditors need to be notified and legal notices published. Trustees need to be guided in how and when to distribute assets and how to take creditors rights into account. A Petition to appoint a personal representative may need to be filed and Letters of Administration obtained. Homestead property, which follows its own set of unique rules in states like Florida, must be dealt with separately from other assets. There are time factors involved in filing and objecting to claims against the estate. There may be a lawsuit pending over the decedent's death or there may have been pending suits that are now continuing. Real estate may need to be sold to effectuate correct distribution of assets pursuant to the estate plan or merely to pay debts. Estate taxes must be considered if the estate exceeds certain thresholds. Other assets may simply need to be transferred from the decedent to his or her heirs. At every step, expert knowledge and advice will help the process go smoother with as little extra stress as possible.

Probate and Trust Administration

Estate Planning FAQ (American Bar Association)

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