5 Important Things to Know About the Probate Process

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The probate process can be difficult to navigate. Often, people are confused about what happens when an estate enters the process of probate. Who takes care of the taxes, paperwork, appraisals, and distribution of the assets? The information below contains important facts to keep in mind when dealing with probate.


The executor of a will is either named in the will or appointed by a judge when no person is named. Typically, the person appointed is the geographically closest and capable relative available. That person files the paperwork in probate court and manages the assets, if any, until such a time as they can be properly distributed. They must also maintain any property owned by the estate and keep a detailed accounting of the debts that are paid from the estate’s funds. The executor may also need to file a tax return on behalf of the deceased.


It is important that the executor compiles a comprehensive list of the estate’s assets. This can include money, property, stocks, insurance policies, and valuable or sentimental personal property. Depending on the debt owed by the deceased at the time of death, some of the assets might need to be liquidated in order to pay off those debts. Some wills also specify a monetary amount that is allotted to each beneficiary, necessitating the selling of assets to meet that endowment.


The probate process can take anywhere from a month to years depending on what is to be dispersed, if there are assets to be liquidated or debts to be paid, or if there is contention about how the contents of the will should be dispersed. The court must approve certain steps in the process such as the payment of debts. Depending on the state, notices and paperwork must be filed as well. The executor may also need to file a federal and/or state tax return, depending on the size of the estate. If needed, it is possible for the beneficiaries to have short-term funds released from the estate while the probate process is in progress.

Inheriting Debt

Many people are curious, or nervous, about whether the debt is inherited from the deceased. Typically, the estate will settle any debt prior to the assets becoming available to a beneficiary. If there is not enough money in the estate to pay the debts, assets will often be liquidated to pay them. In cases of a home with a mortgage or a car that is financed, the debt would be transferred to the person who inherits the property.

Final Disbursement

The last step of the process is the disbursement of the money, possessions, or property to the persons specified in the will. This takes place once all debts are settled and assets are liquidated. Once the court approves,

  1. The beneficiaries are notified in writing that the disbursement will take place.
  2. The beneficiaries receive whatever items the deceased bequeathed to them in the will.
  3. The executor files a final accounting of the estate with the court.
  4. The executor is released from their obligation.

The key to making the probate process smooth is for the executor to be patient and diligent. There are many resources out there to assist with the probate process, and it is advisable to seek the advice of an Peoria IL probate lawyer.

Thanks to our friends and contributors from Smith & Weer, P.C. for their insight into probate practice.