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Probate and Trust Administration

Dealing with the legal and financial affairs of a loved one's estate can be a complex and emotionally-charged journey. Generally, a decedent’s affairs are managed either through probate or the administration of their trust.

Probate Basics:

  1. What is probate? Probate is the legal process of validating a deceased person's will, if one exists, and overseeing the distribution of their assets and settling their debts. This process is typically overseen by the court and ensures that the deceased's wishes are carried out in a fair and legal manner.

  2. When is probate required? Not all estates go through probate. The necessity of probate largely depends on the size and nature of the estate, as well as how assets are titled. Smaller estates, those with well-structured trusts, or those with assets that pass directly to beneficiaries (e.g., life insurance policies or retirement accounts) may avoid probate.

  3. Executor. The executor, also known as the personal representative, is the person appointed in the will or by the court to manage the deceased's estate. They are responsible for handling the estate's affairs, which may include asset inventory, paying debts, and distributing assets to beneficiaries.


Trust Administration Basics:

  1. What is a Trust? A trust is a legal arrangement where a person (the grantor or settlor) transfers assets into a trust to be managed by a trustee for the benefit of named beneficiaries. Trusts can be revocable (modifiable by the grantor) or irrevocable (generally cannot be altered).

  2. Successor Trustee. In the event of the grantor's death or incapacity, the successor trustee takes over the management of the trust. Their duties may include asset management, distribution, and ensuring the trust's terms are carried out according to the grantor's wishes.

  3. Avoiding Probate with Trusts. One of the primary advantages of trusts is their ability to bypass the probate process. Assets held in a trust are typically distributed to beneficiaries without court involvement.


Key Considerations for Both Probate and Trust Administration:

  1. Asset Inventory. Identifying and cataloging the deceased's assets is a fundamental step. In probate and trust administration, this report is used to determine the estate's value to help the personal representative or trustee understand and properly administer the holdings.

  2. Debts and Creditors. Outstanding debts and creditors must be addressed, either through the probate process or the trust administration.

  3. Beneficiary Designations. For assets like life insurance policies, retirement accounts, and bank accounts, beneficiary designations take precedence over wills or trusts.

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"As attorneys, our role is to provide not just professional expertise, but also a compassionate touch, helping families navigate the complexities of the legal processes while ensuring that the wishes of the departed are honored with care and precision."

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