Merrillville Probate Lawyers

Merrillville Probate Lawyers

Probate involves validating the will of a person who recently died or possibly administering the distribution of assets for a person who died without leaving a will, but what seems like a simple, straightforward process can become very complicated very quickly if it involves multiple family members having competing agendas. Probate will often require the help of a skilled Merrillville probate lawyer who will be able to look out for your best interests.

The probate process can be incredibly lengthy and expensive, and in most cases, the intent of the maker of a will not receive proper attention as the heirs and beneficiaries argue about receiving their due inheritance. The probate lawyers at Spagnolo & Hoeksema, LLC, can act quickly to fulfill the wishes of a testator and distribute an estate to all of the truly intended heirs and beneficiaries.

Understanding Probate Terminology

The probate case is likely to involve many of the following terms:

  • Beneficiary — Any person who receives property under the will.
  • Codicil — An amendment or supplement to an existing will that, when admitted to probate, forms a part of the will.
  • Decedent — The person who died and whose estate must now go through the probate process. 
  • Encumbrance — Any claim or restriction on a property’s title, a debt
  • Executor — The person named in a will to oversee the paying of any debts of the estate and distributing the testator’s property according to the will.
  • Pecuniary — Monetary or relating to money.
  • Probate Examiner — The person who examines files and documents in pending probate matters set for hearing to provide technical, procedural, and legal review and ensure matters before the court have proper notice and complete documents for a court ruling. 
  • Residuary Estate — The portion of the estate that remains after completing bequests of specific items of property.
  • Self-Proving Will — A will accompanied by a sworn statement signed by witnesses under penalty of perjury.
  • Sua Sponte — When a judge does something not specifically requested by either party in a probate case. 
  • Testator — The person who makes and executes a last will and testament.

Probate Process

When there is a will in a probate case, the will must be proven valid in court before it will be acceptable. Probate matters in Indiana happen at the local county circuit court, except for Marion County, which has a separate probate court. 

When there is no will, the court applies state laws of intestacy to figure out the hierarchy of how to distribute a decedent’s assets and appoint an administrator to act as the estate’s personal representative. Probate will begin when an executor files the will, and a document called a petition for probate in the county where the decedent lived. 

If a decedent was not a resident of the state where real estate was found, then the papers must be filed in the county where the real estate is. The executor will receive a document called letters testamentary, granting them authority over the estate as well as the title of the personal representative.

Only the assets that were the sole property of a decedent will be subject to probate. This frequently includes all personal property, cash, and any property with tenants in common. 

The probate estate will not include payable-on-death bank accounts, securities, and vehicles named in transfer-on-death forms. The same goes for life insurance proceeds specifying beneficiaries, retirement accounts designating beneficiaries, and assets jointly owned with a right of survivorship. 

Payment of any obligations a decedent owes must happen before any beneficiaries receive their share. Payment of creditors typically occurs in the following order: estate administration costs, family allowances, funeral expenses, taxes, and then debts.

In Indiana, there are two probate processes for smaller estates that may expedite the transfer of a decedent’s property:

  • When a total probate estate is worth no more than $50,000 plus reasonable funeral expenses, a personal representative may distribute assets according to the will and then file a closing statement with the court.
  • When a total probate estate is worth no more than $50,000, any beneficiary who inherits personal property that is not real estate from the decedent can prepare an affidavit explaining why they are entitled to it. The beneficiary presents the affidavit and the decedent’s death certificate to the institution that possesses the property for transfer.

Probate generally includes:

  • Opening an estate
  • Transferring authority of an estate to an executor
  • Paying an estate’s debts, taxes, and other fees
  • Confirming that a decedent’s will is legally sound
  • Distributing remaining assets among beneficiaries
  • Closing the estate

All of this can take a lot of work, especially when an estate has significant assets.

Call Us Today to Schedule a Free Consultation with a Merrillville Probate Lawyer

Probate often results in highly complicated legal issues. If you have doubts about your rights and responsibilities or are just unsure how to start, talk to the experienced team at Spagnolo & Hoeksema, LLC.

Our firm knows how strenuous the probate process can be for everybody involved, but we will work to make sure that you are able to achieve a justifiable estate settlement. You can call us or contact us online for a free consultation that will let us take a closer look at your case and give you solid advice about what you can do and know the best way to proceed.

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