When someone dies, his or her estate does not automatically pass to their spouse, family members, or other beneficiary, whether or not the decedent had a Will. Instead, something must be done to prove to the outside world (banks, title companies, brokerage companies, etc.) exactly who is entitled to the decedent's estate. The process may vary depending upon whether or not the decedent had a Will, what type of assets the decedent owned, and the amount of debts and other claims against the estate.
If the decedent had a Will, the validity of a Will must be proven in court before it can accomplish its purpose of transferring title of assets to the heirs named in the Will. This process of proving the validity of a Will is known as probate, and it generally must take place within four years after death.
If the decedent died without a Will or Trust, there are several possible alternatives available to accomplish the goal of transferring the decedent's estate to his heirs. These alternatives can range from relatively simple and inexpensive procedures to very complicated and expensive ones, depending upon the size of the estate, the type of assets in the decedent's estate, and who the heirs are.
Once the Will is admitted to probate, the executor of the estate normally needs to "administer" the estate. Even if there is no Will, there may be a need to administer the decedent's estate. Estate administration involves collecting the decedent's assets, payment of debts and claims against the estate, filing final income tax returns, payment of estate taxes (if any), determination of who the heirs are if the decedent died without a Will, and distribution of the remainder of the estate to those entitled to it.
I offer a free initial consultation to help you determine which of these procedures would best meet your needs in the most cost-effective manner.