What Is Probate?

POST DATE: 5.24.22
Ccha  Trust Probate

One of the primary purposes of estate planning is to avoid probate. However, probate is also commonly misunderstood—both by those creating estate plans as well as by those named as personal representatives. You may find yourself wondering, “What is probate?” If so, read on to learn more about the process, what’s involved, and whether taking steps to avoid probate makes sense for you.

Probate in Indiana

Probate is the legal process of proving a will, whereby the court establishes whether a deceased person’s will is valid. If the court finds that a will is valid, probate then allows for the administration of the decedent’s estate. The probate process appoints a personal representative to oversee the estate’s administration. Once appointed, the personal representative must then administer the decedent’s estate pursuant to their will.

How Long Do You Have to Present a Will for Probate?

Under Indiana Code, a court generally only has the power to admit a will to probate if the personal representative presents the will in the proper time frame. The general rule is that you have three years from an individual’s death to file probate. However, there are exceptions that an experienced probate lawyer can explain in further detail.

How Long Does Probate Take?

The amount of time it takes to probate a will varies significantly based on a number of factors such as the nature of assets involved, the value of the estate, whether anyone contests the will, the experience and familiarity of the personal representative, whether there are any tax considerations, and whether the estate has any creditors.

If the value of an estate is less than $50,000, the process of administering the estate is often much easier and quicker. Thus, many individuals take steps to limit the number of probate assets in their estate planning to bring the total probate estate value below this figure.

Probate also proceeds much more quickly for well-organized and well-planned estates. When a decedent has taken the time during life to craft a complete and thorough estate plan, it can save the personal representative and heirs time and expense after death. Additionally, this planning allows the process to move more quickly, as the personal representative does not need to spend as much time searching for all the estate assets or documentation.

When Is Probate Required?

Most estates have at least some assets that must pass through probate. However, it is common for certain estate assets to bypass probate altogether because, by their very nature, they do not require probate. For example, assets that are jointly owned or have named beneficiaries will generally transfer directly to the joint owner or beneficiary without the need for probate. Similarly, retirement accounts with a named beneficiary, assets in a trust, and life insurance proceeds are generally considered non-probate assets.

Additionally, estates with a total value of less than $50,000 usually do not need to go through probate. Instead, these estates go through the “small estate administration” process. It is important to still work with an experienced probate lawyer to determine in these cases whether to spread the will of record in case probate assets are ever discovered in the future.

How to Avoid Probate

There are a number of ways to avoid probate. While avoiding probate altogether may not be possible or advantageous for everyone, there are almost always tools that individuals and families can use to reduce the number of probate assets in their estates when desired. These probate avoidance strategies are important to discuss with an experienced probate lawyer to make sure they fit into your estate plan properly, but may include options like a transfer on death deed, revocable living trust, or utilizing beneficiary designations. An experienced Indiana probate lawyer can help you identify the probate avoidance strategies that make the most sense for your situation.

What Is a Probate Lawyer?

A probate lawyer is an attorney who handles all aspects of the probate process. One of the most common roles of a probate lawyer is to advise personal representatives on how to effectively and efficiently fulfill their duties. Most probate lawyers handle cases on behalf of any interested parties, such as individuals seeking to challenge a will, personal representatives, and the estate itself. A probate attorney can also help individuals structure their assets during their life to avoid or reduce the need for probate in the future.

Contact a Probate Attorney for Immediate Assistance

If you have additional questions about the probate administration process or are looking for ways to avoid probate, contact the dedicated probate and estate planning attorneys at Church Church Hittle + Antrim. At CCHA, we have more than 140 years of combined legal experience advising and representing clients in all types of probate matters. We also offer a full suite of estate planning services to help you avoid the need for probate in the future. To learn more and schedule a free consultation with an Indiana probate lawyer, call 317-773-2190 today.