When a property owner passes away, family members may need to go through the Probate process to settle the decedent’s Estate. Below are some issues to consider when beginning the process:

1. What if the Will is in a Safe Deposit Box, or in Cloud storage?

If the decedent’s Will (or assets) is locked in a safe deposit box or in cloud storage in their name alone, the only way to access the safe deposit box is to file a Petition for a Limited Order to ask the Court to authorize the release. When the Order is issued, the financial institution will be authorized to enter the safe deposit box in the presence of the Register of Wills or its agent for the sole purpose of locating the Will for delivery to the Register of Wills office.  Similarly, the Clerk may also need to be present or a witness to obtain documents or a Will contained in cloud storage.

2. What Should I do Before Opening the Estate?

Once an estate is opened, there are strict timelines to follow.  Best practices include gathering all relevant original paperwork (estate documents, death certificate, marriage certificate, divorce order, etc.) and completing a cursory inventory of the assets and debts prior to opening the estate, if at all possible.  You may contact the decedent’s accountant, financial advisor, or estate planning attorney to determine if they retained a copy of the decedent’s original estate planning documents and/or a copy of their last tax return. In addition, you may consider asking a realtor to search property records for any recorded deeds in the name of the decedent.  Gathering all this information can also help determine the approximate size of the estate.  This is relevant when considering what type of petition to file with the court (i.e., small or regular estate), and when considering potential tax consequences.

3. How do I Open the Estate?

A petition must be filed with the probate court to open the Estate in the county of the decedent’s residence.  Probate can be complicated, so you should consider seeking the advice of experienced attorneys to review your situation and prepared the appropriate filings on your behalf.  You may also consider seeking the advice of a certified public accountant who specializes in estate tax prior to opening banking accounts in the name of the estate.  Finally, you may receive or expect an inheritance.  Speaking to a financial advisor early in the probate process may prove to be priceless.  At GCPC, we are experienced in probate matters and can make the entire process less overwhelming. In addition, we have vetted referrals partners (such as CPAs and wealth advisors), who can provide guidance throughout the process in a team approach.  Note: You do not have to use the lawyer that drafted the will to handle probate.  You may choose the firm that is right to guide you as Executor through probate.

4. What happens after Petitioning for Probate?

After filing the Petition for Probate, if everything is in good standing, the Court will “admit” the Will to probate and appoint a Personal Representative and issue what is typically called “Letters of Administration.” In addition, the court will provide a schedule of mandatory filing deadlines.   The process can take several years depending on the size of the estate.  However, an experienced attorneys can help cut through some of the red tape to expedite the process as much as possible.

Probate is Complex

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