Probate can be a long and expensive process in which an estate is settled and distributed to the next generation of owners. During probate the estate’s administrator, who sometimes is called the executor or personal representative, prepares and files forms with the probate court.
Probate is the legal process that ensures your debts are paid and legal title of your assets is transferred to the appropriate heirs and beneficiaries. If you have a will, the probate process determines whether the will is authentic and valid.
The last will and testament’s creator, who also is known as the testator, appoints the executor who will administer the estate. The probate process is dreaded by some people because it can be costly and take anywhere from three months to several years. Probate without a last will and testament might take longer.
A simple layout of the probate process is as follows. The granting of probate is usually the first step. In that process, a probate court decides the legal validity of the will and formally grants approval to the executor to administer the estate.
Then, the executor identifies and prepares an inventory of the deceased person’s property, has the property valued (and appraised if need be), pays debts and taxes, and distributes the remaining property according to the instructions of the last will and testament.
Probate is necessary in all cases. Some smaller estates can sometimes qualify for an informal or streamlined probate process, which involves minimal court hearings and proceedings. However, more valuable estates have to go through a formal probate process, which would have greater involvement from the probate court.
There are different probate forms required for each stage of the probate process, and it is important for the executor, or administrator, of the estate to be familiar with which probate forms are needed, what they are used for, and how to file the probate forms. The list below is separated into the three distinct stages of the probate process: preparing to petition for probate, administering the probate estate and distributing the probate estate.
Details vary from state to state. Your state might give a form a different name than listed here. But the basic steps and principles are the same in most states.
A suggestion for all completed forms used is to have multiple copies available, as the original will be submitted to the probate court, but the executor should keep copies on hand.
The Petition to Probate is an essential form used to start the probate process. All sections and questions, including any attachments needed, are required to be completed. Most often, the original last will and testament, if available, must be attached. All interested persons of the estate should also receive copies of the Petition to Probate.
The Notice of Petition to Administer Estate form is used to notify all interested persons that the estate is being probated, and it is also published in a local newspaper. This form is filed together with the Petition to Probate. It is important to also publish this form in the correct newspaper within the minimum required period prior to the first hearing.
This form gives a summary of the responsibilities and obligations of the person handling the estate. The personal representative will need to sign the form as an acknowledgement of these responsibilities to be formally appointed by the court.
The Order of Probate form is used to appoint the executor or administrator of the estate. It usually is issued after the first hearing when the judge grants the Petition for Probate and officially appoints the executor or administrator.
This form is similar to an oath for the executor or administrator. The individual appointed must sign and file it prior to the hearing. It will be returned to the executor after the probate judge officially appoints the executor. The Letters form can be used as proof of the individual’s authority to act on behalf of the estate.
The Notice of Hearing must be filed to request any hearing before the probate court. For every hearing during the probate process, this form is to be signed and filed with the court. Then, the probate court will issue approval for the requested hearing.
This form is to be completed by the executor or administrator within four months of appointment (though the deadline varies from state to state). It should be the complete record of the initial inventory of the probate estate. The form has two categories, property appraised by the executor or property professionally appraised by the probate referee. All probate estate assets will be sorted under these two categories and listed with complete identification, description and appraisal value.
Associated with a potential probate sale, this form allows executors to sell or exchange property, sell the deceased’s business, determine claims to property and transfer real property under the instructions of the last will and testament. Although the official executor of the estate does have authority to perform actions without filing the Notice of Proposed Action, this form broadly widens the authority of the executor over actions regarding the estate. The form must be filed at least 15 days before the proposed sale date, and the executor must wait to take action on or after that date.
One of the most important responsibilities of the executor is to contact creditors and settle the debts of the estate. This form is mailed to any creditors to notify them of the deceased’s passing and allow them to file a claim on the estate for any money owed to them.
This form is often sent together with the Notice of Administration to Creditors form. It must be sent to the creditor within 30 days after the executor obtains knowledge of the debt to the creditor. The creditor will file this Creditor’s Claim form with an itemized list of claims and dates for the debt owed by the estate.
The executor needs to review the Creditor’s Claim form and then complete and send this form as a response to the creditor. This form must then be filed to the probate court and the executor must pay any claims allowed before the distribution of the estate.
The executor is required to file an accounting of all the financial transactions that have occurred in the administration of the estate in the Final Accounting form. All accountings filed with the court must include a financial statement and report of administration according to each state’s specific guidelines. Two schedules, the Schedule of Receipts and the Schedule of Disbursements, are required to be attached along with the Final Accounting form and filed with the probate court. This form is essential as the final step before closing and distributing the estate.
This petition includes three parts: the Final Accounting form, a report of administrative actions taken by the executor, and the petition for the probate court to approve all matters of administering the estate. This final form is a comprehensive layout of all matters during the administration of the estate. The executor can close and distribute the probate estate after the probate judge’s approval of final distribution.
Valuable contributions to this summary of “What are the Most Commonly Used Probate Forms?” were made by Bob Carlson, editor of the Retirement Watch financial advisory service and chairman of the Board of Trustees of Virginia’s Fairfax County Employees’ Retirement System with more than $4 billion in assets.
Katie Kao is an editorial intern with Eagle Financial Publications.