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Probate - What is it?

Many people want to avoid Probate but are not sure what that term means. Here is a simple way to understand Probate. When a person dies owning assets in his or her name alone, an estate must be "opened" by a personal representative to handle the assets and to settle the decedent's affairs. If the decedent died with a Last Will and Testament, this Will must be filed for Probate at the local Register of Wills, along with Petition for Grant of Letters and an original death certificate.

This filing procedure is known as "Probate." If the Will is notarized, it is "self-proving" otherwise two witnesses must prove the decedent's signature. After the Will is probated, Letters Testamentary will be issued to the personal representative named in the Will, who is now known as the Executor (male) or Executrix (female). If the decedent died without a Will, the Register of Wills issues Letters of Administration to the personal representative, who is known as the Administrator or Administratrix. The Letters are only granted to certain individuals, with priority as follows: residuary legatees under the Will, a surviving spouse, intestate heirs (preference is given to the closest relations), the principal creditors of the decedent at the time of death, and other fit persons.

It is best to work on Probate and Estate Administration with an experienced attorney, who can prepare the Petition for Grant of Letters, file it and take the necessary steps to ensure that the Probate process proceeds in a timely manner.

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