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What Are the Stages of the Probate Process?

First Stage: Personal Representative Appointment and Will Admission

The first stage is commenced by a party desiring to be appointed as the estate's personal representative. The process begins by that party filing an application. If no decedent family member files an application within 45 days of the decedent's death, estate creditors can file an application.

If all estate records are orderly, the probate registrar appoints the applicant as the representative. The registrar admits the original will and issues letters enabling the representative to begin estate administration. The process is an informal process, meaning it is handled without court intervention or hearing.

If problems arise about the party desiring to be appointed or the priority of selection between candidates, if there is a problem obtaining a will original, or if the will's validity is questioned, then estate administration begins formally. A formal case requires a court hearing to address problems. At the close of hearing, the party appointed as the representative is permitted to proceed with informal estate administration without hearings.

Second Stage: Estate Administration

This stage commences when the personal representative is appointed. The representative assumes the same duties, responsibilities, and powers regardless of whether the appointment occurred in an informal or formal manner. The duties of a representative usually include:

  • settlement and distribution of the estate and its assets as soon as possible for the best interests of the estate's heirs
  • administration of estate property without court order or instruction
  • requesting judicial resolution of estate administration matters, as required
  • keeping interested parties informed of estate administration progress
  • taking possession or control of estate property
  • payment of all debts and taxes under the applicable state's priority of claims
  • distributing remaining estate property to parties designated for receipt pursuant to the will or state law

Third Stage: Estate Closure

If the representative has no problems sorting out entitlement to estate property, he or she may close the estate informally at the close of performing estate administration duties. The representative makes a written closing statement to heirs, claimants, and interested parties impacted by estate distribution. The statement must contain a listing of estate debts and claims not paid.

If there are no pending court proceedings brought against the representative one year after the representative files the closing statement, the representative's appointment ends. Once the appointment ends, a representative who posted bond may request the court to release the bond. A representative may seek the court's formal closure of an estate any time after the time for making claims ends. Other interested parties may request a formal closure of the estate administration process one year after the representative's appointment. If a formal closure occurs, the court may approve the estate's final distribution with an order, conclude the representative's appointment, and discharge the representative from later claims of interested parties.