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Alabama Probate Forms

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Probate Forms FAQ

What is probate? 

When a person dies, their assets are distributed in the probate process. Probate is a general term for the entire process of administration of estates of deceased persons, including those without wills, with court supervision. If a person dies with a will, a petition to probate the will is filed with the probate court in the county where the deceased resided at the time of death, asking for letters testamentary to be issued, giving the executor authority to handle the estate affairs. If a person dies with a valid will, an executor is named to handle the distribution of the estate. If the person dies without a valid will, the court appoints an administrator to distribute the decedent's assets according to the state's laws of intestacy. The court will issue letters of administration, also called letters testamentary, to the administrator, giving the authority to handle the affairs of the deceased. An heirship affidavit may also be used to conduct estate affairs when a small estate is involved. In cases where the decedent didn't own property valued at more than a certain amount, which varies by state, the estate may go through a small estate administration process, rather than the formal probate process.

What are the duties of an executor? 

The executor's obligations are generally to: a. Safeguard the property and assets of the estate; b. Inventory (or make a list of) the property; c. Submit accounts or inventories to the court as required (these could be waived); d. Pay the debts and expenses of the deceased (such as funeral and burial expenses, medical expenses, and credit card bills); e. Pay any federal or state death taxes, if any; and f. Distribute the estate to those named in the will or, if no will exists, to your heirs as designated by statute.

How can probate be avoided? 

All property of a decedent may not be subject to the probate process. Some assets, such as insurance policies or cdís may name a beneficiary or pass automatically to a surviving joint owner outside the probate estate of the will. Assets held in trust, or in an account or policy with an insurer or financial institution with a named beneficiary, typically pass outside the probate process. Such assets go to the named beneficiary outside the probate process. If it is a survivorship account, or transfer on death account, it passes outside the probate process. Property held in trust is distributed according to the terms of the trust. It is possible to write a "pourover" clause in a will, so that property "pours over" into the trust, which is exempted from probate. The involvement of the court to transfer such property is not required. A bank account or motor vehicle title may also specify a death beneficiary and thus be exempt from the probate process.

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