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Steps in the Probate Process

Search for the Deceased’s estate plan and will.

Identify heirs and whether or not a personal representative or executor is designated. If someone was already in charge of the Deceased’s finances before death, they are likely the best candidate to be personal representative.

Tally the Deceased’s assets.

Take a good look at the estate. Consult state law to determine if the estate needs to go through formal probate or if it can go through small estates procedures. Look up the relevant documents covering the procedures you will be following. Make sure you understand the directions and the forms that will need filing. Consider seeking the advice of an attorney if you feel it may be necessary.

Determine who will act as personal representative. 

File the relevant documents with the court to be appointed the personal representative.

Send notification to heirs and interested parties.

If there are no challenges to the status of the personal representative, you can usually begin the rest of the process.

Give notice of administration. Publish a notice of administration in a newspaper of general circulation and notify creditors and heirs.

Follow the rules and guidelines set by the state to complete estate proceedings.

File the deceased’s last tax return. Consult state laws to ensure this is done correctly.

Complete formal or informal accounting (tally of payments, deposits, distributions).

At the end of the process, if there are funds left, and with the court’s permission, you can distribute the rest of the estate to the heirs.

The contents of this checklist are intended to provide helpful suggestions to a family member or other survivor who has assumed the duties of concluding the affairs of a loved one/decedent. The list is not intended to be exhaustive. It is not intended to provide legal or financial advice nor to be relied on in lieu of such services.  If you have specific questions relating to an estate you are handling, you may find it helpful to consult with a probate attorney or financial professional.