12. Please explain the probate process in our area.
The probate rules and customs differ in my three jurisdictions, but there are some basic similarities.
After you die, your property (“assets”) passes to others. The probate process applies to assets in your name alone. This differs from joint accounts, which go to the survivor; assets having named beneficiaries, such as life insurance and retirement accounts; and assets in trusts.
If you have a Will, it selects the recipients, may apply restrictions, and appoints your own administrator (called Executor in Virginia, and Personal Representative in DC and Maryland). There is opportunity to make charitable gifts, special arrangements for relatives, and minimize or avoid taxes. Without a Will, sole assets are probated but go outright to your closest relative(s).
DC, MD and VA probate offices are part of the judicial system, located in the courthouse, and the procedures have been streamlined. Your administrator files the original Will, a death certificate, and filled-out forms; takes the oath for faithful service, and receives official authorization (“letters of qualification” or “letters testamentary” or similar titles). Then he or she can obtain a tax ID number from the IRS, and transfer the personal accounts to estate accounts. Notice is given to interested persons and the public, bills and taxes are paid, and those who believe they are owed money by the estate but have not been paid have six months to file their claims. (If denied, their options are to appeal or sue, both expensive for them.) There are Inventory and Accounting forms, and distributions are then made to beneficiaries and the estate is closed.
You can help your appointees by preparing summaries of your assets and liabilities, and providing instructions on where to find things and contact people and companies.
We can assist in preparing the filings and follow-through.