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Do I need to open a probate estate?

The passing of loved ones not only brings sadness, but also brings confusion.  What property was left behind? Who are the beneficiaries?  Who gets what?  Do I need to open a probate estate? Do I need an attorney?

Whether a probate estate needs to be opened will depend on what the property is, and if that property was set up to pass to a named beneficiary. Sometimes beneficiaries are unknown or contested, which will require opening a probate case.

If a person dies with property in their name alone (not joint) or owns an insurance policy or retirement benefits and has not named anyone as a beneficiary, a probate estate must be opened. During the probate process, the court will determine based on intestacy laws and other factors who is entitled to the property.  A common misconception is that if a someone leaves a will, then no probate is necessary.  This is not true!  Having a will does not in itself mean that probate can be avoided.  

There are also times when probate is not necessary.  Joint accounts and accounts with beneficiary designations (for example: life insurance and retirement accounts) will avoid probate.  Also, a properly funded trust will avoid probate.   In these situations, the beneficiaries are known.

If you’re wondering whether you need to open a probate estate and would like guidance during these difficult times, call our office to set up a consultation with one of our experienced probate attorneys.  Our attorneys will help ease the frustration and confusion that comes along with the passing of a loved one.  We can help guide you along the way, so you won’t need to worry about what paperwork to file and whether you’re doing things right.