What Happens During the Probate Process?

 Posted on December 28, 2023 in Estate Planning

DuPage County estate planning lawyerWhen a loved one passes away, you are grieving and likely overwhelmed. Knowing what to expect can ease some stress if they leave behind property requiring probate. An Illinois estate planning lawyer can provide insight into what happens at each step so you feel informed and empowered.

Filing the Initial Petition

Formal probate begins when an appointed executor or estate representative files paperwork with the county probate court. This includes a certified copy of the will (if one exists), the death certificate, and a petition to open probate and appoint the representative. Filing fees must also be paid.

The court reviews the petition and supporting documents. As long as everything looks valid, they officially open the estate and issue a document called “Letters of Office” naming the estate representative and authorizing them to conduct transactions on behalf of the estate.

Notification and Inventory Stage

Now, the real work begins. The representative must send death notifications to all beneficiaries named in the will, creditors, and entities holding assets. This puts them on notice so any claims can be made against the estate.

The representative must also complete an inventory of probate assets. This means locating, appraising, and recording things owned solely by the deceased, like property, cars, bank accounts, stocks, and similar. Anything with a named beneficiary passes outside probate directly to heirs, so it is not included.

Managing Claims & Paying Debts

A common responsibility is managing claims made against the estate by creditors, tax agencies, heirs contesting the will, and any other entities. If funds are insufficient to pay all debts, the representative must prioritize which gets satisfied first as legally required. They will need to sell estate assets in cases of insolvent estates.

Along the way, the representative must keep detailed financial records and file continued reports with the probate court outlining all transactions and economic activity for review and approval.

Distributing Remaining Assets

Once all outstanding debts and disputes are settled, the representative can finally distribute whatever is left to heirs according to the will’s wishes. Many personal belongings often get handed out near the beginning, but real estate and significant financial assets usually can’t be dispersed until probate concludes.

Filing a Final Accounting

The last step is submitting a final accounting and petition for discharge to the court showing how all assets were managed and disbursed and debts paid. The representative is relieved of liability if approved, and the estate can formally close. Any heirs who still feel improperly shortchanged can file a complaint within a certain window.

Contact a DuPage County, IL Estate Planning Attorney

Probate involves many complex administrative and legal processes. Do not struggle through this alone. You can work with a Cook County, IL estate planning lawyer who can offer tailored guidance and support during this difficult time. Call Whitacre & Stefanczuk LTD at 773-622-6100 for a free consultation.

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