PROBATE – The Estate Settlement Process

The word “probate” often sends shivers down the backs of individuals that have been saddled with the responsibility of handling the estate of a family member or friend.  It is, indeed, a process and not an event.

The process begins after a person’s death and the decisions regarding what is to be done with their property.  The deceased usually leaves behind assets that require transfer to another owner; be it family, friend or institution.  Initially, an attorney would be involved to present the matter to a court, after which an executor (“Personal Representative” or “PR”) is appointed and documents recognizing this appointment are issued by the court.  

Once the PR receives this authorization identifying the assets becomes the first objective. Searching for these can take considerable time and knowledge as to where one needs to look in order to uncover them.  The court expects the executor to have an inventory of all these assets, including real property to be assembled and appraised in 90 days.

The second objective is handling the “Creditor’s Claim Period” which is a 120-day time during which anyone having a claim against the deceased’s estate must file their documentation with the court and with the PR.  It is important that this be done in order to close the door on claims that could appear later and perhaps result in harassment of heirs to the estate.

The third objective is to determine the need to file personal, or estate tax returns.  The PR is responsible for determining the need for filing any or all of these returns, as well as researching the records of the deceased to determine if gift tax returns are needed.  Timing of all of these varies with the returns that are required.

Once the assets and liabilities of the estate have been identified, the claims and taxes paid or arranged for, the distribution process can begin.  Often there is a timing factor for making these distributions, whether it is for income considerations to avoid taxing the income within the estate at higher and compressed levels, or for protection of the asset.  Specific bequests must be satisfied, often within a one-year time frame in order to avoid penalties to the estate.   Trusts may need to be funded from the estate as well.

Finally the estate will need to be closed, whether by court order or by other action approved by state law. Generally this requires some form of accounting by the PR, which will normally be presented to either the court of jurisdiction or to the beneficiaries of the estate.

This is a highly specialized field, and choosing the right PR is a key to a successful transfer of assets. Tresco of Idaho is a company with heart for people and understands their need for sensitivity while this process goes onward.  Successfully managing personal property of the deceased is also an emotional process for beneficiaries; we have compassion for this process and the mental struggles personal property can bring. As a professional fiduciary company, Tresco is financially responsible, has unquestioned integrity, and freedom from personal bias.