Probate is the legal process in which the courts approve the validity of the decedent’s will, and there is distribution of the assets belonging to the estate.
The New York State Unified Court System states that once a judge validates the will, the bulk of the responsibilities falls to the executor named in the will. This role requires various duties, and the process can take months or years, depending on the size and complexity of the estate.
The probate filing
To begin the process, an individual, oftentimes the executor, must file a probate petition, the decedent’s death certificate and the original will to the county’s Surrogate’s Court in which the decedent had his or her primary residence. The petition must include the names of the decedent’s heirs, who receive a citation that allows them to approve or contest the naming of the executor. There must also be a notice sent out to the beneficiaries named in the will.
The executor, overseen by the court, is in charge of distributing the decedent’s property as outlined in the will. However, the Corporate Finance Institute discusses that this individual has many other duties during the probate process.
The executor must locate, gather and safeguard the decedent’s assets as well as give value to them. This individual must inform creditors, government agencies, life insurance companies, financial institutions, credit card companies and others about the decedent’s death. The executor must continue to pay ongoing bills of the estate, such as a mortgage, if applicable, utilities and property upkeep. If the estate does not have enough cash for debts and expenses, the executor must sell some of the assets to pay.
The executor files and pays taxes for the estate. Once there is a settling of debts and taxes, the executor can distribute the remaining assets to the beneficiaries.