The Administrative Process of Probate
After a loved one has passed, managing the complex process of probate without outside professional help can feel overwhelming. Hire an experienced probate attorney to ensure that the process is handled with care and attention, and to minimize the potential for legal battles lasting years after your loved one has passed.
Below is an overview of the Indiana administrative process of probate, and the phases you can expect to encounter along the way.
Personal Representatives and Their Responsibilities
Ideally, the decedent named a personal representative in his will; otherwise, the court will appoint one. The personal representative can be a spouse, family member, or professional associate. This individual holds a great deal of responsibility to ensure that the probate process goes smoothly, as well as a duty under Indiana law to ensure that the proceeds of the estate are distributed according to the deceased person’s wishes without unfairly favoring him or herself in the process.
The responsibilities of the personal representative include:
- Creating an inventory of all property possessed by the deceased, as well as its value, within two months of being appointed as personal representative; all beneficiaries can request a copy
- Protecting and maintaining the estate’s assets through the duration of the probate process, and liquidating assets as necessary
- Providing notice to creditors
- Handling claims filed against the estate
- Filing and paying all necessary state and federal tax returns
- Ensuring that gifts are properly distributed to beneficiaries
- Closing the estate once all claims and gifts are paid and providing an accounting of every action taken on behalf of the estate
If you have been selected to serve as a personal representative, a lawyer experienced in the Indiana probate process can help you create an inventory, assist with any necessary property sales or liquidations, ensure tax filings are properly completed, and handle legal claims filed against the estate.
Supervised Versus Unsupervised Estates
In the state of Indiana, probate administration can be supervised or unsupervised. When drafting a will, many people specify that their estate should be probated unsupervised; otherwise, if all beneficiaries consent to unsupervised administration of the estate, they can sign a document that states their consent. Once the personal representative is named by the court in an unsupervised probate administration, that individual will act independently in carrying out their duties, rather than needing court approval before making decisions regarding the estate as they would were the administration supervised. Should any beneficiaries decline to consent to unsupervised probate, where there are many beneficiaries to the will, or where challenges to the will are anticipated, the court will likely require that probate be supervised. This process tends to be longer and costlier, due to the heavy court involvement.
Settling Claims of Creditors
A major component of probate is paying off any debts accrued by the deceased person, which must occur before the gifts bequeathed in the will may be distributed. Disputes may arise during this process regarding the legitimacy of the claimed debts, where the only person who could authoritatively testify as to whether that charge was legally made, has died. An attorney can assist you in proving before the court that a debt was wrongly attributed to the estate, and that it should not be paid.
Distributing Property to Beneficiaries
Having an attorney will allow heirs to trust in the legitimacy of the probate process. Where a family member acts as the personal representative, doubts may arise about their ability to be impartial. Save yourselves the pain of infighting among family and the expense of additional litigation by securing independent, unbiased legal help in the management of the probate process and distribution of the estate.
If you are facing a probate-related legal issue, or need representation in estate litigation, contact the experienced and knowledgeable Indianapolis probate attorneys at Lee Cossell & Feagley, LLP at 317-631-5151, or contact us online.