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Probate is a legal process by which an estate of someone who has died is distributed to the beneficiaries or heirs. This process also includes paying any debts the deceased person owed and settling all assets. A common question is ‘when is probate not necessary?' Since each state has its own laws on probate, it’s always necessary to know the laws for your specific state.
Generally, there are two broad categories of probate: formal and informal. It may also be called probate for large estates and probate for small estates. In Maryland, the terms used are a "modified" estate for the more streamlined proceedings for estates valued at less than $100K or a "regular" estate administration for estates that are valued at more than $100K. In New York, the probate court considers an estate to be "small" if it is valued at less than $30,000.
The role of the court is to ensure that the wishes of the deceased are carried out and that all obligations have been taken care of. The probate court oversees the probate process, interprets any documents that may be unclear and answers any questions that may arise. The court acts in a supervisory role, which may vary by state. Some state laws require the court to have more oversight, which may mean the executor must get permission or approval before taking any action.
If there are any disputes about the will or someone contests it, the court must resolve the disputes before any assets can be distributed. The court looks at the evidence presented within the probate records and compares them to what is in the will and makes a determination on how the assets should be handled. Once all the tasks for probate have been completed, the court also closes probate.
Depending on the size of the estate, whether the deceased person left a will or not, and whether anyone contests the will, the probate process can take as little as a few months and as long as several years. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, some probate courts were completely overwhelmed so even the simplest estates took over one year to complete.
Depending on the size and complexity of the estate, the cost of probate can range from a few hundred dollars to many thousands. The costs of probate include court fees, executor fees, bond fees, attorneys' fees as well as miscellaneous fees such as fees to publish the notice of death in a local newspaper. Our law offices allow for probate fees to be paid on a payment schedule. We provide our clients with the option to choose an hourly rate or a flat rate attorneys fee.
If you need assistance with the probate process in New York or Maryland, contact us.
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