The only assets that are subject to the legal proceeding known as "probate" are those that are titled in the deceased person's name alone. Property owned by the deceased person with one or more persons as joint tenants will pass automatically to the surviving joint owners without the need for probate. Assets owned by the deceased person which name one or more beneficiaries will pass to those named beneficiaries upon presentation of a death certificate to the responsible institution. So, the only assets subject to probate are those "stuck" in the deceased person's name.
The Probate Process - Part 1
The probate process begins with the filing of a petition for the appointment of an executor (if there is a Will involved) or of an administrator (if there is no Will involved). If the decedent had a Will, it must be filed with the Court within 6 months following the date of death to be valid. So, even if you don't believe the Will is necessary (because there is no "probate property"), it is a good idea to file the Will with teh appropriate court so the Will is preserved should it later be needed (for property later discovered). Notice of the probate being opened is to be provided to all of the decedent's heirs at law (such as children, spouse, grandchildren) and to all of those people named in the Will (if there is a Will). The people that receive notice are given the time to object to the appointment of the executor/administrator and the admission of the Will (if there is a Will, someone may object and argue it is not valid). See below for a continuation.
Probate Process - Part 2
Once appointed, the executor/administrator has the duty to collect and manage assets of the estate; filing the decedent's final income tax returns; pay the decedent's final expenses. Each beneficiary is entitled to ask questions of the executor and/or his attorney in order to be and remain informed during the period of administration. The executor is required to publish notice to creditors once a week for three weeks in a local newspaper - this is to give all unknown creditors a chance to file a claim with the estate seeking payment. If a creditor fails to file a claim within 4 months of the first publication of notice, that creditor will be forever barred from seeking payment from the estate. It is important to know that the executor owes is a fiduciary to each and every beneficiary of the estate and must carry out the applicable duties without regard to personal feelings or animosity he/she may have against one or more beneficiaries - see Part 3 below
Probate Process- Part 3
If the executor is unable to separate his/her personal feelings from his/her job as executor you should advise the executor's attorney. You will know the attorney's identity from pleadings filed with the Court and provided to you when the probate case was opened (if you are an heir or beneficiary under the Will). Finally, approximately 6 months after the decedent's death (assuming the probate was filed shortly after death), a petition to close the estate will be filed along with an accounting setting forth all income and expense of the estate since it was opened. An inventory will have also been filed setting forth the assets of the estate. The petition to close the estate will set forth the disposition of the assets requested by the executor and pursuant to the Will (or Kansas law if there is no Will). After addressing any objections, if any, the court will enter a Journal Entry of Final Settlement which will set forth who is to receive the property of the estate.
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