Comprehensive Estate Administration Assistance in Alabama
When someone passes away, several procedural steps must occur before their estate can be closed. A personal representative, who will either be named in a will or appointed by an Alabama court, is responsible for carrying out these tasks that make up the probate process. You may be called upon to serve in this capacity in the wake of a loved one’s passing.
Fortunately, you do not have to face probate alone. Our Phenix City probate lawyers at Loftin, Loftin & May have over 55 years of experience and can advise you throughout each stage of estate administration. We understand that losing someone you care about is never easy, and our goal is to help you navigate this difficult moment as efficiently as possible. Should disputes arise, we will diligently represent your interests and fight to obtain the best possible outcome.
How Probate Works in Alabama
Probate is known for being a complex, time-consuming process. Many personal representatives are not necessarily prepared for the amount of work involved, especially if they are overseeing a larger estate with many assets. Our Phenix City probate attorneys can help you manage the job’s many responsibilities.
In Alabama, the personal representative is responsible for:
- Initiating the Process. Ideally, the decedent will have left behind a will that names a personal representative as part of their estate plan. It is customary for the personal representative to initiate probate and request control of the deceased’s estate. However, anyone with a financial interest in the decedent’s estate can move to initiate the process, which may become necessary if no will can be located. In these circumstances, the applicable court will appoint a personal representative.
- Notifying Heirs, Beneficiaries, and Creditors. Once a personal representative has been authorized, they will need to formally notify any beneficiaries named in the will, known creditors with outstanding debts, and heirs who stand to inherit assets if there is no valid will. This gives them the opportunity to file objections regarding the chosen personal representative and potentially the legitimacy of the will.
- Posting a Bond. Many wills specify that the decedent’s chosen personal representative does not need to post a bond. If the will does not include such a clause, the probate court may require the personal representative to post a bond as a sort of insurance policy. This works to protect the estate from any losses a personal representative confers due to mismanagement.
- Inventorying and Appraising Estate Property. The personal representative must assess and, as necessary, appraise all estate property of value, especially items named in the will. This process can take a substantial amount of time if the estate is especially large or if some assets are difficult to locate. This inventory will be reviewed and likely scrutinized by the court, so it is important that professional, licensed appraisers evaluate applicable assets.
- Settling Outstanding Debts. Creditors will likely come forward and claim the decedent owes a debt. The personal representative must use estate assets to pay all valid claims. It is important to understand that no assets can be distributed until all legitimate debts have been settled. Certain types of debts receive “priority” if there are not enough estate assets to pay all creditors.
- Distributing Assets. Once tax returns have been filed, debts have been paid, and any conflicts have been resolved, the personal representative can seek permission from the court to distribute the remaining estate assets in accordance with the will’s instructions. In most cases, personal representatives cannot distribute any assets early. After all assets have been distributed, the personal representative will need to submit a final accounting of their estate activities and request the estate be closed.
- Demonstrating the Validity of the Will. Alabama only recognizes wills that have been formalized in accordance with the state’s rules. Alabama does not recognize “holographic,” or handwritten, wills. To prove the will’s validity, the personal representative will need to submit confirmation from at least one of the witnesses to the document’s signing. Interested parties, including heirs, may challenge the will in what is called a “will contest.” They may claim the will is not legitimate or not enforceable due to disqualifying factors. Will contests can dramatically slow down the probate process and will typically need to be argued and decided in court.
- Filing and Paying Taxes. The personal representative must file the decedent’s last tax returns and pay any amount due using estate assets.
In Alabama, “small estates” do not necessarily need to go through every step of the probate process. As of 2021, a simplified procedure is potentially available if a decedent’s estate is valued at $25,000 or less and includes no real estate property.
In these situations, a decedent’s surviving spouse or someone who will inherit assets from the estate (if there is no surviving spouse) can request small estate probate. They must submit a copy of the will (if one exists) and demonstrate that funeral expenses have already been paid or will soon be paid by the filer. If the request is granted, the spouse or inheritor assumes the role of the personal representative for the remainder of the abridged process.
The personal representative must next notify the decedent’s creditors by publishing the request for small estate probate in a local newspaper. The notice must be circulated in a county where the decedent previously lived.
Because so few assets are available, there is a considerable chance the personal representative will not be able to pay all creditors if the decedent had many debts. Different types of debt are assigned priority, and the personal representative must pay them in a certain order. Funeral and burial expenses get top priority and are followed by estate administration fees. Any medical bills related to the decedent’s final condition must be paid next, followed by any government taxes. Secured and unsecured debts are paid last. The personal representative can distribute any remaining assets once all debts have been paid.
Contact us online or call (334) 310-0208 to learn more about how we can assist you with the probate process.
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