Planning for death is like any other transition of life, except this is one we can make easier for our loved ones. Don’t let the process of settling your estate, a process commonly known as probate, get in their way — and cost them more money.
After you die, your will must be legitimized by the court, in this case the local probate court. The judge (there is no jury) needs to know this document is the last will of the deceased, review the inventory of the estate and confirm who will administer the estate proceeds. This is called “executing” a will. Typically the executor or a lawyer representing the executor files the appropriate forms and handles the court matters.
A will is not legal until it is probated, a process that typically takes anywhere from 6 months to 3 years. This also allows an heir to challenge a current will, the probate court to confirm there are no errors in the documentation and creditors to make a claim against the estate. The fees to file the paperwork range from $150 in Michigan to as much as $800 in Texas, but of course legal fees are on top of that.
All your assets must be accounted for — not just your house, car and bank accounts but also your savings bonds, those stock certificates in a drawer and the 529 plans you set up for your grandchildren’s education, as well as personal property.