Probate usually occurs in the local court where the deceased permanently resided at the time of death. If the deceased did not have a Will, each state will have its own pattern for distributing the deceased’s real property. Generally it is necessary to go through probate or, in the case of smaller estates, a less formal procedure that is still under the general supervision of the probate court, before the deceased’s property can be legally distributed. If a person dies with a Will (which is known as dying “testate”), a court needs an opportunity to allow others to object to the Will. A number of objections, might invalidate a Will, for example, an ALLEGATION that there is a later Will or that the Will was made at a time the deceased was mentally incompetent. Additional challenges to a Will can include FORGERY, improper EXECUTION (signature), or a claim that the decedent was subject to undue influence. Dying without a Will is known as dying INTESTATE; however, such estates remain subject to the law and rules of the probate code of the decedent’s domiciled jurisdiction.
The Personal Representative typically must file a probate petition and notify all those who would have legally been entitled to receive property from the deceased if the deceased died without a Will, plus all those named in the Will, and give anyone who chooses a chance to file a formal objection to the Will.
A HEARING on the probate petition is typically scheduled several weeks to months after the matter is filed. If no objections are filed the court generally approves the petition and formally appoints the Personal Representative. While it is not required that there be representation by an attorney in probate court, probate is a rather formalistic procedure. The death of a family member is typically a stressful time even when the death is expected, such as with a person of quite advanced age or with someone who is terminally ill. Employing an attorney may be the less expensive alternative in the long run.
The probate court or division has jurisdiction over all PERSONAL PROPERTY the deceased owned, plus all the real property the deceased owned which is located in that same state. If the decedent owned out of state real property, the laws of that jurisdiction will apply, unless there is a Will. If there is no Will, Probate is usually required in each state where the real property is situated, in addition to the home state. Even if there is a Will, after it is admitted to probate in the home state, it usually must be submitted to probate in each other jurisdiction in which the deceased owned real property. A separate probate action for such circumstance is known as ANCILLARYprobate. Some states require the appointment of a Personal Representative who is a local resident to administer the in-state property.
A Will Contest take place where a second, different Will of the decedent is produced or in the event there is an objection to the Will. An individual or entity must have proper standing to contest a Will. This means they must have a claim for some type of interest in the estate based on either another Will or a lawful relationship to the decedent. If the Will is held invalid, the probate court may invalidate all provisions or only the challenged portion. If the entire Will is held invalid, generally the proceeds are distributed under the laws of INTESTACYof the probating state. The fact that the decedent even attempted to create a new Will may invalidate the older one, even if the new Will is found not to be valid. Hiring an attorney is usually necessary to determine whether contesting a Will is even worth the expense.
In addition to a Will Contest, estates can be involved in other lawsuits. Estates are legal entities, which can file suit, and be sued. Typically, such suits involve prior acts of the decedent, which gave rise to some claim. There are time limits involving such claims if the estate is to be sued. Potential claimants would be considered potential creditors.