WHEN IS PROBATE NECESSARY?
With respect to a decedent,
when an asset is titled in one name alone, with no beneficiary
designation, the title is "frozen" in the decedent's name. The court
must be petitioned to transfer title to beneficiaries, under the Will
or, if there was no Will, under the "intestate succession" law of the
state of the decedent's domicile. For example, when Mom passes owning
the house title (from the deed 30 years ago) in the names of "Mr. and
Mrs. William Smith" and Dad previously passed, the title is owned by
Mrs. Smith alone. Thus, nothing can be done to transfer the title or
sell the property in one name alone, since the owner is deceased;
thus, court authority is needed to transfer title.
With respect to a
disabled/incapacitated person, an
asset titled in that person's name alone cannot be managed without
obtaining authority from the court, so that a "conservator" is appointed
to manage that asset/assets. However, if a durable power of attorney for
finances was signed, presumably the agent under that power of attorney
document may manage the asset/assets, without the court.
With respect to an incapacitated person,
if there is no medical durable power of attorney, the court will
authorize the appropriate person, to make decisions.
With respect to estate planning,
the preference is to avoid probate. However, a standard way to avoid the
probate court is to plan a trust, which involves a trust document and
transferring each asset out of the current title and into the name of
the trustee under the recently signed trust. This process is not
difficult, but most people consider this transferring of title of each
asset as somewhat demanding and time consuming. So rather than deal with
difficulties of this nature, some individuals prefer to have the
traditional Last Will and Testament be the primary document of their
estate planning and if a person's assets pass under the Last Will,
probate is required.
DO I HAVE TO APPEAR IN COURT?
As to Estate Planning, no.
As to court
appointment of a Personal Representative for a decedent, usually no, but
it depends on the circumstances. In any event, the lawyer will have
to file papers in court for the client.
As to appointment of a Guardian or Conservator of an
incapacitated or disabled person, yes.
HOW LONG WILL THE PROCEEDINGS TAKE?
Estate Planning may be concluded within a month, but it
depends on the circumstances/needs.
Administration of a decedent's estate
starts with the appointment of a "personal representative" formerly
called "executor" (although the change is purely only in name). The
conclusion of a full estate administration will usually require about
nine months, but sometimes, especially if the assets are not
substantial, a period of possibly two months may apply.
With respect to administration of a disabled
person's conservatorship estate,
the appointment of the conservator may occur within one month, but
emergency circumstances can push matters forward. The conservator will
serve usually until the passing of that disabled person, unless the
individual is "restored" by the court.