Indiana Probate Court Process
Probate is the legal process of proving a deceased person’s will, making the final arrangements for that person’s estate, and ensuring distributions of assets are properly made to the decedent’s beneficiaries. During the Indiana probate court process, the decedent’s local county court will oversee what is known as the probate estate.
If you have been named as an executor in a person’s will or a family member passed away without leaving a will, contact an Indianapolis probate lawyer right away. The probate process can go smoothly or it can have many bumps along the way that require an attorney’s knowledge and skills.
The probate of property includes all assets that the decedent owned at the time of their death, except for specific types of assets that can go straight to the next owner without court approval. Non-probate assets include property held in a tenancy by the entirety, property with a transfer-on-death deed, payable-on-death bank accounts, life insurance proceeds, assets within living trusts, and retirement accounts. Typical assets within a probate estate include a person’s home, vehicles, art, jewelry, investments, bank and savings accounts, and other personal items.
Beginning the Probate Proceedings
To start the probate process, the person who has the decedent’s will files a petition for probate in the decedent’s local county probate court system. The individual who has a copy of the decedent’s will is usually the person named as the executor or administrator. The appropriate county is usually the one in which the decedent lived. However, if there is any question as to which is the appropriate county, it can also be the county in which the decedent owned real estate. This is sometimes necessary when a decedent owned property in one place, but spent their final years or months in another county or state living with family or in a care facility.
If you have any questions about where to go through the probate process, speak with an Indianapolis probate lawyer as soon as possible after the person’s death. We can help you determine where an individual owned land and where the process should be started.
Naming a Personal Representative of the Estate
One of the first steps the court takes is to formally name an executor of the estate. This process begins when an individual files a petition for letters testamentary. The court may find the estate’s personal representative is the individual named in the will, or if they decline or the family objects, it may be another individual who has the resources to take on this process. Once the court issues the letters testamentary, the individual has the legal power to handle the decedent’s assets, including accessing them to pay off debts and file and pay taxes.
Validating the Will
The county probate court will seek to immediately prove that the will is real and valid. If the decedent’s will is self-proving, there is no need for additional confirmation unless a beneficiary or heir objects. In general, a self-proving will is one that has an attached statement from two witnesses that signed, under the penalty of perjury, that they saw the decedent sign the will and heard or saw the decedent affirm that the document was their will. This affidavit is also signed and stamped by a notary. However, in Indiana, you may not even need this affidavit. If all of Indiana’s laws regarding the creation of a valid will were followed in regard to how it was signed and witnessed, then it is considered self-proving.
If an heir or beneficiary claims there is another will or that the filed will is not valid, then there may be a lengthier process that requires witness and medical expert testimony. When there are objections to a will, this can greatly increase the duration of the probate process because it delays when the personal representative can handle certain tasks and make a final accounting of the estate.
Supervised or Unsupervised Administration
The personal representative must conduct a variety of tasks over the coming weeks or months including determining the person’s assets and debts, publishing notice of the death and probate proceeding in the newspaper and mailing notice to potential heirs, paying off the appropriate debts, filing the decedent’s estate taxes and paying any liability, and distributing assets to the beneficiaries. They can do this through the supervised or unsupervised administration of the state. The most common process is unsupervised, during which the court takes a hands-off stance and the executor conducts those tasks without step-by-step court approval. Unsupervised administration is only allowed if the decedent had more assets than debts and either the will allows it or all potential beneficiaries agree to it.
Supervised administration is more common when a decedent leaves behind a good deal of debt, there are disputes over the estate, or there are ambiguities within the will. When the executor goes through a supervised process, they must file an inventory of assets with the court. They must seek approval to sell any of these assets in order to pay off the decedent’s debts. Once all of the assets have been appraised and sold as necessary and all liabilities paid off, the representative must give the court a final accounting of the estate. It can be a complex process, and an experienced Indiana probate lawyer can be helpful.
Contact an Indianapolis Probate Lawyer for Help
If you are responsible for your family member’s will and estate or just have questions about the Indiana probate court process, do not hesitate to get help from attorney Sean Hessler with Hessler Law. We understand it can be difficult to go through your loved one’s finances and property and navigate the legal process while mourning. We will do what we can to smooth the way for you.