The loss of a loved one is never easy. The traditional time of grieving is often complicated by the challenges associated with the settling of the estate and the transfer of the deceased’s assets to beneficiaries. If your loved one had an estate plan in place, this process might be streamlined. Whether or not there was a will, the administrator or executor of the estate should have supportive, competent legal guidance through the probate administration process. This is especially true if there is a contested will or any other type of legal dispute.
At Davis, Bingham, Hudson & Buckner, P.C., our experienced Alabama probate attorneys have in-depth experience assisting families through the complex probate process as well as representing clients involved in general probate litigation, intestate estate disputes, and other matters related to removing or establishing beneficial interests. We have been around for over 40 years, and we are well-established in the Auburn community. Our extensive knowledge of probate and estate laws gives our clients reassurance knowing that their rights and interests are fully protected.
What is Probate?
Probate is the court-facilitated process for determining the correct distribution of assets upon a decedent’s death. In its simplest form, this is the legal process necessary to settle the affairs of a decedent and transfer assets to their heirs. Some common issues that arise during probate are claims of surviving family members, estate taxes, a decedent’s debts, and creditor claims. While the existence of a will can simplify probate, it does not mean that the process will not take place.
Not every estate in Alabama must go through probate. This process is only necessary to disburse probate assets that are located in Alabama. Probate assets include property that the decedent owned within the state that did not automatically pass to someone else at the time of their death. These might include real estate, bank accounts, or life insurance policies with no named beneficiary.
Non-probate assets are those that transfer directly to someone else when a person dies. Examples include revocable trust property, property owned jointly with rights of survivorship, and assets with “payable-on-death” or “transfer-on-death” designations.
How to Probate a Will in Alabama
Alabama probate is a complex process and not something that should be viewed as a do-it-yourself endeavor. There are many complicated fiduciary duties and legal rules that can get you in trouble if not handled correctly. While not a requirement, the Alabama courts will recommend that you retain the services of a qualified probate attorney.
The probate process in Alabama has three parts: opening, administering, and closing the estate. When you open the estate, your attorney will determine the proper jurisdiction for filing, which is generally the decedent’s county of residence. A petition is then filed with the Alabama probate court, a personal representative is appointed, and notices to heirs are sent.
Administering the estate involves the collection and management of the estate’s assets, the payment of the estate’s obligations, and the distribution of the remainder to the estate’s beneficiaries. The designated representative will take inventory, take measures to protect assets, and work to resolve issues with creditors, including tax payments that might be due.
Once the administration is complete, the personal representative provides the attorney and the courts with an accounting of the estate. Provided it has been at least six months since the estate was opened, the attorney can file a petition with the probate court to close the estate.
What is Alabama’s Intestate Law?
If a loved one has passed away, it is best to determine quickly whether they left a valid Alabama last will and testament. If they did not, that person has died intestate, meaning they passed away without leaving a will. Partial intestacy is also possible if a person dies with a will that doesn’t properly list the disposition of their assets.
When a person dies intestate in Alabama, the state has laws that will govern the distribution of assets, which may not be according to their wishes. There is a complex list of intestate succession that will depend on a variety of factors. This is also an estate that will be subject to the probate process in most cases.
Alternatives to Probate in Alabama
In some cases, you may be eligible for an abbreviated, or simplified, probate process in Alabama. The Small Estate Procedure allows for a shortened process called “Summary Distribution of Small Estates” for an estate worth less than $25,000. There are also some statutory allowances, which include the Exempt Property Allowance and the Homestead Exemption, that allow assets to be passed to family members without the need for probate. This is something that our estate planning attorney can research for your particular situation to see if you qualify.
How an Auburn Probate Attorney Can Help
In order to protect the interests of beneficiaries, heirs, and creditors of the estate, Alabama probate administration has many procedures and processes that must be followed. It is not uncommon for an inexperienced, but well-meaning, administrator or executor of an estate to miss a filing deadline or make another critical mistake. Unfortunately, errors such as these can lead to unnecessary expense or delay and could even result in personal liability.
At Davis, Bingham, Hudson & Buckner, P.C., our estate planning attorneys have extensive experience in Alabama probate courts, and we regularly assist administrators and executors with the management of their fiduciary duties, including:
- Proving the validity of a will
- Locating, cataloging, and safeguarding estate assets
- Providing notice of probate proceedings to involved parties
- Filing reports and accounting with the courts
- Appearing at scheduled hearings
- Coordinating the efforts of insurance agents, investment advisors, accountants, and other professionals
- Settling estate debts
- Distributing the assets of the estate
- Closing the estate
When there is the occasional dispute regarding an estate, we can represent you in the resulting estate and probate litigation, including allegations of undue influence and will contests. We have experience settling many different types of disputes, both in and outside the courtroom.
Our estate planning and probate attorneys take pride in helping families and estate administrators understand the practical and legal requirements of probate, and in the appropriate delegation of tasks to minimize costs. We understand that this is a difficult time for your family and are committed to providing you the assistance you need so that you can continue to move forward.
We invite you to contact our attorneys at 334-821-1908 to schedule an initial consultation. You may also send us a secure and confidential message through our online contact form, or you can stop by our Auburn office for assistance.