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 will determine whether the will is authentic and valid. During the process, an executor will be appointed to administer the estate.
Each state has the authority to create and implement its specific probate laws with court proceedings, bonds and fees. Some states give cities and counties the authority to modify the details within their jurisdictions. It is important to have a basic understanding of the state’s probate laws before going through the process.
Probate is a long-time feature of Anglo-American law. Over time, many people complained that the process was unnecessarily lengthy, complex, and expensive and should be modernized. A group of lawyers and legal scholars, known as the Uniform Law Commission, drafted a more condensed and streamlined process for probate throughout the United States called the Uniform Probate Code (UPC). The primary purposes of the UPC were to simplify the probate process and standardize aspects of state probate laws.
The original version of UPC was drafted in 1969, and it was most recently updated in 2019. The Uniform Law Commission has no authority. It drafts and issues laws and recommends that each of the states adopt them. The state legislatures decide whether or not to adopt a proposed uniform law and can adopt one in whole or in part. Those that do adopt the uniform laws often do so with modifications.
So far, 18 states have adopted at least in part the provisions of the UPC.
The Uniform Probate Code has seven sections which spell out three different kinds of probate: informal, unsupervised formal, and supervised formal. Most of the probate processes under the UPC follow the informal process, simplifying and shortening the time it takes to probate an estate. But the informality of the process depends on the details of the estate and the modifications of the UPC that each state implemented.
The informal probate process under the UPC, whether or not the deceased had a last will and testament, follows these steps:
There is an unsupervised formal probate process under the UPC that is similar to the regular probate process in some states that have not adopted the UPC. This process is for when disagreements arise during probate. The executor schedules a court hearing at which the disagreements are heard. This process usually is longer and more expensive than the informal process.
In rare cases, a supervised formal probate is used. The probate court might find this necessary, for example when an estate or the beneficiary needs the court’s protection. The probate court is heavily involved in the supervised formal probate process.
Valuable contributions to this summary of “What is the Uniform Probate Code?” 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.