What are the Responsibilities of a Probate Judge?

A probate judge oversees cases where a will has been prepared by a deceased person and those where there is no will (intestate cases). Most probate issues are decided on a county basis. The main job of a probate judge is dealing with estates, says Yahoo Finance’s recent article entitled, “How Do Probate Judges Administer Estates?”

Probate is the process of closing an individual’s estate at their death. Probate is the process of proving that the will is valid, paying the bills associated with the estate, paying taxes and distributing property to the heirs. If the person dies intestate or without a will, probate is more complex and requires more involvement from the probate judge. If you leave a last will and testament upon your death, you ease the burden on your family, who will be grieving and navigating the probate process.

If the deceased person (the decedent) had a will, and no beneficiary steps up to contest it, the role of a probate judge is relatively minor but significant. If you must enter probate, here are the general steps, but the procedure varies from state to state.

  1. Open a Probate Case With the Court – The executor of the decedent’s estate files the will with the probate court. The probate judge will see if anyone has any objections to the will. For instance, a possible beneficiary could assert that the decedent was coerced into making the will. The beneficiaries of the will could also disagree on what’s inherited. Moreover, the judge might have to deal with a contested will. However, if there are no objections to the will, the executor is approved, and an estate bank account is opened.
  2. Notify Interested Parties – The executor will place notices in newspapers to creditors of the decedent. Those interested in a decedent’s will would be any possible heirs and all creditors. They’re notified if they can be found. If not, then newspaper notices have to suffice. Creditors have a specified time period to submit claims against the estate.
  3. Inventory of the Estate Assets– The executor must inventory the estate and state the amount that individual assets were worth on the date of the decedent’s death. This inventory is filed with the probate judge and the heirs. Executors may be compensated for their work either by inheriting themselves or by a statement in the will concerning their compensation. Executors often hire a probate attorney for assistance, especially if the estate is very large or complex.
  4. Distribution of Assets – After the inventory, the probate judge authorizes the distribution of assets, unless the will is contested. The debts of managing the estate, creditor’s debts and minor children and their inheritance are also addressed. The debts are paid from the estate, even if assets have to be sold to pay them.
  5. Terminating the Estate – The probate judge ensures that all creditors have been paid and closes the estate. It remains a public record.

If a person dies without a will, the same general steps are followed. However, the process is more complicated.

Reference: Yahoo Finance (Aug. 31, 2021) “How Do Probate Judges Administer Estates?”

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