A long and difficult probate process is the last thing a grieving family needs. Thankfully, understanding the basics of probate is one way to prevent that.

It is encouraging to know that not everything has to go through probate. For instance, life insurance accounts are often payable to their beneficiaries without any need to step inside a courthouse. Similarly, if you were a joint tenant with the right of survivorship with the decedent, you can inherit the title to the property without going through probate. If the decedent’s estate is worth less than $50,000, you may be able to skip probate altogether by filing a small estate affidavit. And of course, if the decedent had a trust, you could skip probate even if the estate is worth more than $50,000.

But some people will have to follow an asset through probate. This makes it even more important to be acquainted with the process.

First, someone must apply to the circuit court to be qualified as the executor or administrator of the estate, also known as the personal representative. If the decedent died with a will, the person named as the executor in the will must qualify. If the decedent died without a will (intestate), the court will appoint an administrator. This could be a family member, friend, or attorney, but he or she is often required to post a bond to qualify. Within the first 60 days of the decedent’s death, the court will give preference to qualifying heirs of the estate as administrators, but generally, after that period, if a personal representative has not been qualified, anyone may apply.

Within 30 days of qualification, the personal representative must provide formal written notice to the beneficiaries that the probate process has started. He or she may then begin to manage the assets, which includes the opening a separate bank account for the estate to safeguard liquid assets and pay debts. Within the first four months of qualification, the personal representative must file an inventory of the estate’s assets with the Commissioner of Accounts. Within the first sixteen months, the first accounting must be filed. This is a statement that tracks how the assets are being distributed and that must be filed every following year until the estate is closed. Of course, the personal representative must also file the estate’s taxes by the IRS deadline even while filing the accountings. Depending on the size of the estate, this process could take at least a year. The duration of probate also depends on where the assets are located. If the decedent had real property in another state, for example, the personal representative would have to open an “ancillary estate” in addition to the Virginia estate.

After all the assets have been distributed and debts paid, a final accounting can be submitted to close the estate. Timing the closing of the estate with the tax season is especially important to ending the probate process quickly and efficiently. The professionals at Kondori & Moorad, LLP are sensitive to such details because we know that when a loved one passes, you should be with your family, not in court, and as such, can assist you throughout the probate administration process to ensure that all rightful heirs and beneficiaries get their respective inheritance, and that there is a closure to the decedent’s estate.

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