How to Probate a Will in 4 Easy Steps
Probating a will isn’t always simple, but it doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, many people can probate a will without using an attorney — as long as they understand the process and have access to the right resources.
So let’s get started. Probate is the process of proving the validity of a will in court and executing the deceased’s wishes expressed in the will.
What if there’s no will? The process is essentially the same except that state law determines who the heirs are regardless of the deceased’s wishes.
4 Steps to Complete Probate
1) Have A Valid Will To Probate
First things first: you need a valid, signed will. Many people update wills or write entirely new wills over the course of their lives, so the deceased may have several.
Each new will should have a statement that it cancels all previous wills. Thus the only valid will is the most recent will.
A valid will must be signed in compliance with state requirements. That often means it had to have been signed by two witnesses or notarized. Many states do allow for a "napkin" will — one with only the deceased’s signature. But if you’re dealing with a napkin will, expect some additional scrutiny.
2) Petition The Court To Accept The Will And Grant Letters Of Testamentary
Once you’ve obtained a valid will, you’ll need to fill out the appropriate probate forms from the court.
Unfortunately, probate forms can be confusing and overwhelming, and most courts don’t provide any assistance in understanding them. You can hire a lawyer to help you, but the cost is prohibitive for many. An average probate attorney’s fees range from $3,000-$7,000 for simple estates and tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for more complex estates.
EZ-Probate can help by providing ready-to-sign court documents and guiding you through all the required probate forms and deadlines. We charge a flat $500 for the entire process and give you a 60 day free trial.
3) Process The Estate
Once the court has received your probate forms and appointed you as executor of the estate, you will gather all the assets of the deceased, pay any debts (including funeral expenses), pay any taxes due, and distribute assets to the heirs. You must gather assets, diligently discover any debts, and pay taxes before distributing to the heirs.
Keep in mind that you will be required to report your activities to the court and to any interested parties during every step of the probate process.
4) Finalize The Estate
Once you have processed the estate (paid all debts and taxes and distributed all assets), you can close the estate and request the final decree from the court.
You will likely have to submit a closing report to the court that includes an accounting of all debts and assets and your activities as executor. It is imperative that you keep good records throughout the process so that you are prepared to complete the report.