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Wills, Trusts & Estates: Plain and Simple – What Is Probate?

November 19, 2018

When a last will and testament is admitted to probate, it simply means that the court is satisfied that the will is valid and has decreed the will valid to direct the distribution of a decedent’s assets. The court then provides the executor with what is called letters testamentary, which is a document that gives the executor of the will the power to collect the decedent’s assets and administer the estate. (Note that a will can direct what happens only to assets that are in the decedent’s name alone; that is, the will generally does not affect the distribution of IRAs, 401(k)s, pension plans, and jointly owned assets.)

The proceeding to have the will admitted to probate involves filing papers with the court (in New York, the Surrogate’s Courts handle probate proceedings), including the original will, a certified copy of the death certificate and the probate petition. The probate proceeding should be relatively short, only taking a few weeks, if the executor and all beneficiaries/distributees agree the will is valid. Distributees are the people who would be entitled to share in the decedent’s estate if he/she had died without a will; New York law requires them to receive notice of the probate proceeding.

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Reprinted with permission from Lloyd Harbor Life, November 2018.

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