When you die, unless you have planned otherwise ahead of time, your estate will be settled through the legal system in the probate process. This is the administrative method of handling most of your assets that you leave behind when you die.
Probate transfers your assets to others in what is hopefully an orderly process under supervision. Debts and taxes are paid first, then beneficiaries receive their inheritances. The probate process will happen whether you have a will or didn’t get around to making one.
State Law Governs
When a will is proved valid, it determines to whom and how your estate is transferred. If no will exists or the will is not valid or only partially valid, then state law where you live governs receipt of your assets and property.
A probate court at the state level oversees this process. The actual workings of the process itself can vary from state to state. But the basics are pretty much the same.
Your personal representative will be sworn in first. Then he or she must notify heirs, creditors and the public of your death. An inventory and valuation of your property must be prepared. Bills and taxes must be paid. Then your estate is distributed to the heirs.
Sometimes there is a dispute about who should serve as your personal representative, especially if you didn’t identify someone. The court must determine who that should be and then formally appoint that person.
It’s important to note that there are certain types of property that don’t go through probate, such as assets owned jointly or those that will pass on to a named beneficiary, like a life insurance policy.
Unsworth LaPlante, PLLC can help Vermont residents with questions about probate.