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What do I need to do to probate an estate?

If you were appointed by the court or named by the decedent to probate an estate, you may be daunted by the task. While small, simple estates with few assets may be satisfactorily be handled by a lay person with no legal background, most estates will require — at minimum — a consult with a probate and estate planning attorney.

The following checklist of tasks may be helpful for estate administrators.

1. Assemble all documents that detail the decedent's preferences for the disposition of the remains, memorial or funeral plans. You will also need to access the will, as well as financial and estate documents, including copies of the decedent's tax returns for the past three years.

Most financial institutions require that you have a certified copy of the death certificate to access the decedent's' safety deposit box and other account information.

2. Initiate probate of the estate. While simple estates with few assets may be competently handled by a responsible individual with no legal background, at minimum it is better to at least consult with an estate administration attorney.

There is a very good reason for doing so. Estate administrators are held legally — and financially — responsible for any errors or omissions that occur during the probate process.

3. Correctly valuating assets should be your next move. The clock freezes on the value of all the decedent's assets on the date of death. That makes determining the value of financial accounts and instruments easy.

Such is not the case for other assets like fine jewelry, real estate, vehicles, businesses and collections of art, wine, firearms and other diverse property. To get a fair market value for these type of assets, the estate administrator must retain a professional appraiser.

4. You will need to settle all legitimate debts owed by the decedent and mount legal challenges to suspected illegitimate charges or claims. There are also ongoing expenses associated with estate administration and probate. These also must be paid by the administrator using estate funds and keeping meticulous records (with receipts).

5. The final responsibility is the distribution of the remainder of the estate to the heirs and beneficiaries, who likely have been impatiently anticipating this moment. The estate attorney handling the case is an effective source who can answer their questions about the estate settlement process.

Source: The Balance, "Probate Checklist - How to Probate an Estate," accessed May 10, 2017

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